Israeli media has been touting Bibi Netanyahu’s latest foray to Moscow to see his Russian bro, Vladimir Putin, and take in a World Cup match, as a masterstroke of geo-political strategy. In reality, it appears to me a rehash of Israeli-Saudi-UAE talking points which start with Syria, but range far beyond. Here are some of the main points of the supposed grand bargain as outlined by Haaretz columnist, Zvi Barel:
- Trump agrees to recognize Russian annexation of Crimea and end Russian sanctions.
- In return, Putin agrees to compel either a full or partial withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria.
- Israel agrees not to threaten Assad’s rule in Syria as long as Russian or UN forces monitor the buffer zone between the two countries.
- Russia agrees to pressure Iran to negotiate a corollary deal restraining its missile development program
Iran appears to get nothing out of this series of deals. Unless not getting invaded by an Israeli-Saudi-U.S. expeditionary force is defined as a benefit.
The NY Times’ coverage of the Moscow meeting and its aftermath was far more restrained, probably better reflecting either what really was agreed during the meeting; or what the real outcome will be on the ground. It reported:
It was not the deal he was hoping for, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel left Moscow on Thursday saying he had won an important commitment from President Vladimir V. Putin.
Israel, he said, did not object to President Bashar al-Assad’s regaining control over all of Syria, a vital Russian objective, and Russia had pushed Iranian and allied Shiite forces “tens of kilometers” away from the Israeli border.
…A commitment to keep Iranian forces tens of kilometers from Israel was a far cry from ejecting them completely from Syria, which Mr. Netanyahu has been lobbying Mr. Putin to do. And even that commitment was not confirmed by Russian officials.
“We are aware of your concerns,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Netanyahu, the Kremlin said.
…It is unclear how much leverage Israel has to press its anti-Iran agenda diplomatically.
The Times noted that Russia has limited power to force Iran to do anything in Iran. It can ask, but it cannot command. Nor do the Russians have the stomach for an open-ended presence keeping the peace between Israel and Syria.
But not according to Haaretz, which paints a picture of doom and gloom in Iran. Trump’s sanctions are tightening the noose on the economy. Iran will be forced out of the world oil market come November. And its enemies in Saudi Arabia and even the Russians will take up the slack to diminish the impact on the world economy. International businesses are fleeing Iran right and left. The EU powerless to maintain the JCPOA agreement. If you believe Haaretz’s sources inside the Israeli government it’s all about to come down like a house of cards. Which of course, it isn’t. That’s why, despite Haaretz being touted as the most liberal and intelligent of Israel’s media, it’s not always true. In this case, in particular, its reporters have been sold a bill of goods.
Haaretz further disparages the strength of Iran’s position vis-a-vis the Russians. Here it speaks of the former’s emissary to the Kremlin, Ali Akbar Velayati:
Velayati found himself in the embarrassing position of begging the Russian president for his country, while his host himself is preparing to ask Trump, at their summit in three days’ time, to lift the sanctions that were imposed on Russia following the war with Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea.
This reads more like a novel than journalism: one of Iran’s most powerful political figures went begging to Putin? How does he know this? Perhaps a little birdie named Bibi told him so?
Again, according to Haaretz’s sources, Israel will graciously deign to allow Assad to resume control of the area along the Golan armistice line, but not to station his own troops there. And then, only if Russian or UN observers act as a buffer:
Israel objects to the entrance of Syrian forces to the Syrian Golan Heights to take over the remaining militias there, but will agree to Russian policing forces in the area until circumstances enable UN observers to return to the region.
Imagine that, Israel tries to dictate what a leader of a neighboring country can do with his own troops inside his own country! When it is Israel who has refused for decades to negotiate an end to hostilities and define an international border.
Noa Landau put it equally condescendingly in another Haaretz analysis she published:
The Israeli-Russian deal that has emerged in recent years now seems clearer than ever: Putin won’t impede Israel’s freedom of action in Syria and will keep Iran away from Israel’s border, and Israel won’t hinder Assad from returning to power.
First of all, Israel has been “hindering” Assad almost since the beginning of the civil war in 2011. It never wanted him restored to full control of the country. And now Israel will permit him to do so? Who died and made Israel boss in Syria? Seems someone in the PMO is suffering a bit from delusions of grandeur.
Bibi, according to Haaretz’s sources, seeks to enlist Russia in drawing up a master plan for Syria after the war ends:
According to Western diplomatic sources, Israel wants Russia to draft a strategic plan for after the war, which will prevent Syria from becoming a transit country for weapons between Iran and Hezbollah. Israel’s real payment to Russia is expected to come from Washington, which will have to legitimize the international reconciliation with Russia and perhaps revoke some of the sanctions.
There’s a whole lot of “ifs” in this passage. Russian will agree to restrain Hezbollah and Iranian troublemaking in Syria if Israel succeeds in persuading Trump to reconcile with Russia. The writer of these words forgets that Trump isn’t a puppeteer manipulating marionette strings. There is a Congress, an intelligence community, and the American people. They may have a few words to say on these matters that may not align perfectly with Trump’s vision (to say the least). Trump does not govern by fiat, though he often tries to.
Here is more empty rhetoric disparaging Iran’s status:
Iran has few cards to counteract this scenario. It can announce its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and resume enriching uranium, risking a rupture with Russia, its important ally China and even face a military offensive. Another possibility is to agree to withdraw from the Israeli border and even remove some forces from Syria.
The third option is that Iran agree to remove its forces from the border and at the same time negotiate another agreement dealing with its ballistic missile plan, which won’t necessarily replace the nuclear agreement. This plan may gain Russian and European support and could satisfy Trump’s demands and portray him as a diplomatic hero who didn’t bow to Iran but forced it to back down.
There isn’t a hope in hell Iran will agree to negotiate a new deal after Trump rejected the original nuclear deal. The country spent months negotiating a carefully crafted plan only to have Trump rail about it and then trample it. So after that, this writer assumes Iran will negotiate a new deal that will further restrict development of its missile program? And that Trump will be happy with this? Really?
To top this all off, Barel offers his own cogent analysis of internal Iranian politics. Where this analysis comes from and who offered it to him, God only knows. But it comes out of left field and reminds me of the Delphic oracle:
The internal power balance will determine Iran’s moves. Its internal struggle is described in the West simplistically as conservatives against reformists, with Khamenei, Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, on one side, with Rohani and most of his ministers on the other.
But the power struggles within each camp don’t necessarily correspond to Iran’s national interests. In view of massive pressure from the conservative faction, Rohani will be forced to replace a few ministers and appoint a Revolutionary Guards man as cabinet minister. This could undermine his ability to protect the nuclear agreement and increase the Guards’ influence.
And finally let’s leave with another bit of cloud cuckoo land posturing disguised as analysis:
A reconciliation between Russia and the United States, which would lead to a coordinated policy between them, could determine Iran’s future moves. When senior Washington officials announce they are not seeking to topple Iran’s regime, and when Russia protects Assad, Iran’s ally, whose regime can ensure Iran’s continued influence, even without military presence on the ground, there’s a better chance for the diplomatic moves to yield results that are desirable for Iran, the West and Israel.
A Russian-U.S. reconciliation? In what world is he living? Russia is in the midst of a vast cyber-war against the U.S. Will Putin all of a sudden graciously agree to make nice in return for Trump recognizing Crimean annexation and lifting sanctions? And even if Trump wanted to do it, who in their right mind thinks Congress will go along?
Finally, all of this is the world according to Israel. Not according to what it really is or is likely to be in the coming years. The trick about Israel is that it tries to make the world think that its interests are an inevitable outcome of events. That reality will inexorably lead to the outcome it seeks. But this is a very dangerous game because it deludes Israel and its citizens into believing its own press. When it doesn’t come true, Israel will be left holding the bag.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.