Israel Makes a Historic Pivot to the Northeast
The author is an Italian industrialist and honorary member of the Academy of Science of the Institut de France.
There are many signs to make us think of a new strategic relationship between Russia and Israel.
Overall, we can now assume that the Jewish State is already evaluating the US disengagement from the Middle East - and is thus trying to define a policy to "replace" it by improving connections with the Russian Federation.
Obviously the bad personal relations between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu carry considerable weight, but we are witnessing a real redefinition of the entire region’s geopolitical equilibrium. Also, the US and EU’s slapdash attitude toward the JCPOA treaty on Iranian civilian/military nuclear power, rightly criticized by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the whole Israeli establishment, had significant influence.
Russia, which has already "won" its war in Syria, and Israel, which has drawn all the geopolitical consequences of the "Arab springs" and the ambiguous initial US support for the anti-Assad Syrian “rebels”, are almost alone redesigning the map of Greater Middle East. Whatever happens in Syria from now on, the US is destined to be progressively marginalized both in the Sunni and Shiite regions, no longer having the clout it had a few years ago in a series of alliances (with Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan).
The signs of a "new start" for Russian-Israeli relations are manifold. Suffice to think of Russia returning an M48 Patton Israeli tank captured by the Syrians in the 1982 Lebanon War during an ambush near Sultan Yaakov in which the three tank drivers were killed.The tank was sent by Hafez el Assad to Moscow for study by Soviet technical and intelligence services, and later placed in the Tank Museum of Kubinka.
However, there is no official news about the fate of the three IDF soldiers. Obviously President Vladimir Putin informed Bashar al-Assad in advance of his decision, and nothing prevents the current Syrian Alawite leadership from deciding in future to provide the Israeli government with information about the fate of the three tank drivers.
Furthermore, during all Russian operations in Syria, Russian and Israeli soldiers met regularly to exchange information and avoid duplication of efforts. The Russians tolerated some trespassing - which was regularly reported – of Israeli aircraft over the Golan Heights and into central Syria, while the Jewish State tolerated (having had advance warning) some Russian aircraft flying over its territory. It’s clear that off-ramp negotiations between Russia and Israel consist of three closely interwoven elements.
Israel wants the Russian Federation to act as a credible mediator and power broker between Israel and the Palestinian region, because it is trusted by both parties. In addition, the Jewish State opposes any transfer of military technology, information and logistics from Russia to its allies in Syria: Hezbollah, the Iranian brigades of the Pasdaran Al Quds Force, and Bashar al-Assad’s government. Nor can we rule out that - in the coming months or years - a Russian/Israeli axis could redesign the Middle East. Currently the main powers have neither father nor mother, and the replacement of the great powers by Iran and Saudi Arabia will not last long because they are too small to be able to create far-reaching strategic correlations. Hence the time has come for the Middle East to be anchored to a global power, the Russian-Chinese axis, with Israel acting as a regional counterweight.
It is worth recalling that China has already made military flights over Syrian territory. China’s "non-interventionist" policy does not mean lack of knowledge or the absence of pressure and interference. The Russian-Israeli negotiations also imply a Russian guarantee for Israel regarding possible Iranian military operations, the marginalization of the Lebanese Shiites’ "Party of God", a new Assad government that does not aim to destroy the ''Zionist entity", or the division of current Syria into three parts, with the consequent quieting of its internal factions.
This is the US line, and partially also the line of some Israeli decision-makers. Russia, however, thinks that the whole of Southern Syria should go back under the Assad regime, while Israel, along with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, believes that a mini-State in Southern Syria is necessary for Assad and his Iranian allies to invade the Golan Heights.
President Putin’s offer to the Jewish State seems to be the following: if Israel were to accept a "Greater Syria", Russian forces would remain in the Western region of the country to protect Israel against any action by Iran or Assad’s government.
That is why Russia wants to reopen political relations between Assad and Israel, to draw the Baathist government away from Iran’s and the Lebanese Shiites’ geopolitical line, which is not even in its interest. Hence the strategic reason for the token gesture of restitution of the Israeli tank.
Nevertheless, there is more in the new Russian Middle East project and in the Israeli response to the rise of Russian power in the Middle East.
During Netanyahu's visit to Russia on April 21, 2016, for example, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Russian President pointed out Russia's interest in developing and exploiting the new offshore natural gas field known as Leviathan, which will be the real "game changer" in the Middle East in the near future. If GazProm cooperates in the exploitation and marketing of the offshore gas field between Haifa and the Gaza Strip, it will be vital for the Russian Federation to ensure - along with Israel - security of communications, particularly in relation to possible Hezbollah actions from Lebanon or Iranian pressure on the Golan.
This new energy system will finally transform relations between Israel and Turkey, which will be the hub of the natural gas extracted from the Leviathan field, and enable Russian oil and gas companies to enter the Middle East market, excluding US companies operating in Turkey and in most of the Sunni world. It is worth recalling that both Iran and Qatar now operate mainly on the natural gas market, and the large Israeli Leviathan gas field could give many of the fiercest Muslim, Shiite or Sunni opponents of the Jewish State pause.
Therefore Netanyahu’s three visits to Russia over a year are essential both for Israel’s foreign policy and its economic future. Moreover, Israel knows that the Obama administration believes that some territories conquered by the Jewish State were annexed illegally and this fact could bring Russia and Israel closer in the future. Russia has to maintain its presence in Ukraine and defend the annexation of Crimea at the international level. If Israel supports Russia’s demands, it is very likely for it to support Israel’s right to keep the Palestinian territories. Moreover, in strictly military terms, the Jewish State fears that the presence of Russia’s advanced weaponry sold to Iran - such as the Iskander missile or the batteries of S-400 air-defense systems – would make Syrian territory very dangerous for Israel's security.
Hence, very specific operational guarantees and a clear idea of Russian defenses eastwards and along the route of the future Leviathan pipeline will be needed to reassure Israel of the Russian Federation’s good intentions. It is said, however, that the deployment of the Triumph S-400 and other advanced Russian weapons are basically cosmetic for "image" purposes, and some British analysts do not even believe that these reports are grounded.
Yet, since 2007 Russia has already had a listening post in place in the Golan Heights, which controls Israel’s telephone traffic (via the Internet and electronically) and, above all, its decision-making centers. The Jewish State also has listening posts there and in other safe areas of the Middle East region. In other words, both President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu are laying all their cards on the table, being well aware of the projects and "tacit knowledge" they have about each other.
Considering all these conditions, in the best possible scenario, Israel could:
a) replace - in the long run - the United States with the Russian Federation as a global ally and as a presence of reference in the Middle East region. The American ruling class is closely linked to the Saudi lobby, in terms of both financial and political subsidies. The two wars of the US-led Coalition in Iraq have disrupted Saudi Arabia’s main enemy, namely Iran. They have placed an advanced Western military system between Saudi Arabia and its Iranian enemy and created a center of gravity north of Saudi Arabia, stabilizing the entire region under the Saudi Sunnis.
Furthermore, b) Israel can rely on the Russian power broker as a more stable and credible mediator, both vis-à-vis the Palestinians and, in the long run, in relation to the Shiite and Alawite world. The US has placed all its bets in the Greater Middle East on the democratization and secularization of populations and regimes that do not have the same culture, history or links between religion and politics as those in the West. It’s also worth noting that their psy-ops and propaganda operations were, and still are, often incomprehensible to the huge Islamic masses of the Greater Middle East.
Successful modernization in Islam, if any, is jihad, not adapting to the Western, secularized cultural universe. Not all Arabs would decide to be "shahid", namely martyrs for Al Qaeda, but the Arab masses celebrated - in the streets - the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attack.
This is the new imagery and narrative with which we have to come to terms, according to the “imaginal” - a philosophical concept developed by the orientalist Henry Corbin, who believed that the term “imaginary” had acquired a very restricted meaning in Western philosophy - due to the fact that the great-power balance in the Middle East has been replaced by smaller regional powers that have to radicalize their ideology to hide their strategic, military and geopolitical inadequacy or failure.
Since the two Iraq wars, the United States has viewed the Eastern region through Western eyes - to quote the title of a great novel by Joseph Conrad, (initially set - incidentally - in Saint Petersburg) a comprehensive strategy of democratization and secularization which has clearly failed, and to which the US ruling class cannot but respond with the Jeffersonian formula: no entanglements.
But can there be a global power, with a global currency, without entanglements? This paradox of US foreign policy cannot be solved in the short term.
Finally 3) Israel, jointly with the Russian Federation, will be able to project globally. In the future, there will be a place for Israel in the Chinese One-Belt, One-Road Initiative in Central Asia, in India, even in Latin America and in some African areas. All areas now in the Russian and Chinese strategic area, while the EU is retreating even from the Mediterranean (while increasing its already substantial rate of anti-Semitism) dreaming, together with the US, of an irrational revival of the Cold War, with current NATO operations in Poland.
It is worth noting, however, that both Crimea and Ukraine are in Russian hands, at least de facto, and that a military operation against NATO positions along the border with the Russian Federation can be led from those areas - an operation difficult for NATO to oppose.
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