World Russia and Israel may be on a collision course in Syria
Biden has an opportunity to put his own stamp on Arab-Israeli relations
Future normalization between Israel and additional Arab states is a question of when, not if. If the Biden administration wants to set a course that can bring even wider benefits to all involved, including the Palestinians, the United States can try for a different take on normalization.Michael Koplow is chief policy officer, Shira Efron is a policy adviser and Evan Gottesman is an adviser at the Israel Policy Forum. They are the co-authors of a new policy report, "The New Normal," examining the Abraham Accords' ramifications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Follow on Twitter @IsraelPolicy4m.
- Recent Russian statements have prompted speculation about Moscow's response to Israeli strikes in Syria.
- If there's a shift, it could pose problems for the US, as the situation between Israel and Russia is fragile and complicated.
Recent statements by a Russian admiral and an anonymous Russian source have prompted speculation about whether Russia is changing its approach regarding Israeli strikes on Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria.
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If such a shift is coming, it could pose problems for the United States, as the situation between Israel and Russia, while not unfriendly, is fragile and complicated.
On July 19, Israel launched an attack on Hezbollah and Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria.
Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria,Russian missile-defense systems brought down seven of eight Israeli missiles launched at sites near Aleppo. A few days later, Israel launched another four missiles near Homs, all of which he said were intercepted.
Israel did not comment on the attack, but made sure thatof significant damage to a Syrian site on .
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Observersthe specifics of Kulit's claims, casting a on their veracity. Around the same time, the London-based Arabic news outlet, Asharq Al-Aswat, an anonymous Russian source said that, in the wake of US President Joe Biden's Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow had gotten the message that Washington was not pleased with Israel's escalated activity in Syria.
But there has been no indication that the United States is concerned about Israel's military activities in Syria, nor that such a spectacular success against Israeli missiles was accomplished.
Either of these would be game-changers, and it's difficult to believe that there would be no chatter about them in the United States and Israel if either were true. But if the claims are exaggerated, what is the purpose of such statements by Russia?
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Over the past decade, Vladimir Putin's resurgent Russia has been a perpetual concern for many in the West. © VLADIMIR SMIRNOV/AFP/POOL/AFP via Getty Images Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen in Sochi, Russia, in September. These concerns are not baseless. It's undeniable that Putin and the President's inner circle have grown in confidence during this period.
Clearly, Kulit was not speaking out of turn, as there have been no reports of his being disciplined or reprimanded for his statements. Russian leaders have not publicly rebuked or supported Kulit's statements, which reinforces the idea that these claims are being put out there for strategic purposes.
They take place at a time of major change. Joe Biden has replaced Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu has been supplanted by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
In both cases, this means a shift for Putin from interlocutors who relied heavily on their personal relationship with him and operated with a very self-centered style of diplomacy, to newcomers he is less familiar with and represent national interests beyond their own.
Putin likely wants to test the resolve of the relatively inexperienced Israeli leaders and wants to get a clear picture of how Biden, with his less conciliatory approach to Moscow compared to Trump, will handle the delicate balance that has been struck in Syria.
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Assad has won the war. That's not new information. U.S. decision makers must deal with reality as it is, not as they wish it to be. Since arming and training anti-Assad rebels was the original intent of sending in troops, the impossibility of ousting Assad at an acceptable cost should mean that U.S. troops come home. Yet U.S. strategy remains behind the times.The U.S. mission in Syria—in an all-too-familiar refrain after the failures of Afghanistan—has changed. A limited (albeit flawed) anti-ISIS mission has turned into an increasingly unclear and dangerous entanglement years after ISIS was denied its physical caliphate.
That balance is basedthat the Trump administration reached with Russia in 2017, and which Israel was greatly .
It allowed Iranian-backed militias, including Hezbollah, to continue to operate in a safe zone created in southern Syria. The accompanying ceasefire in that zone was meant to facilitate both US and Russian efforts to combat ISIS in the region, but Israel was much more concerned about the militias.
Israeli complaints fell on deaf ears, but the Trump administration made it clear that Israel was free to pursue its objectives. A line of communicationbetween Israel and Russia, which Israel used to notify Moscow of impending attacks, in the hope of avoiding Russian casualties and upsetting the delicate balance.
Although there have been several incidents over the years that threatened to alter the status quo, diplomacy between Israel and Russiawhen they arose. But now, there have that the communication between Israel and Russia has stopped.
Netanyahu, ever on the lookout for ways to discredit and undermine the new Israeli government, seemed to support this idea when his Likud party, "We maintained freedom of action in Syria thanks to Netanyahu's close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If these reports are accurate, this failed government has lost another vital strategic asset that Israel enjoyed under the Netanyahu government."
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A prominent independent politician in Syria told Newsweek that "the best interests of the U.S." could "only be achieved with a stable working relationship with the Syrian government."But in Syria, the U.S. military remains with no discernable exit strategy.
Russia has never been happy about Israel's frequent attacks in Syria, as its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, affirmed in January. "If Israel is really forced to respond to threats to Israeli security coming from the Syrian territory," he, "we have told our Israeli colleagues many times: if you see such threats, please give us the information."
Israel has made it clear over the years that this is unacceptable to them.
There may also be more than just feeling out the new Israeli and US governments at work here.
With Lebanon mired in economic collapse and political chaos, Hezbollah's position there has become moreand , even while its and have remained a source of agitation for Israel.
As the situation in Lebanon worsens, the possibility of clashes with Israel increase, particularly asdomestically.
The possibility of the United States finding a way to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, and defusing some of the tensions in the Gulf, also represents a potential shift for Russia to manage.
In early July, Russia, Iran, and Turkey reaffirmed theirto see a unified and independent Syria reformed.
This is where Russia is hoping to flex its diplomatic muscles on the international stage, but aside from declarations like this one, and some cooperation between Russia and Turkey in maintaining each country's sphere of influence in Syria, the process these countries undertook four years ago hasto resolve the Syrian conflict.
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With these shifting circumstances, Russia may be looking for a way forward.
Arab states, most prominently the UAE, areways to start bringing Syria back into the fold. Russia very much wants to see that happen, as it would then have a more direct influence in the region, through Damascus.
But it's a difficult process; Arab states do not want to shoulder the burden of rebuilding Syria, something Russia as well cannot afford, and the country remains conflicted and divided.
By rebuking Israel, Moscow has reaffirmed its support for and value to the tattered Assad regime. But the regional concerns are what make the question of whether Russia is really intending to take a stronger stance against Israeli actions in Syria so important.
The Biden administration will have to think carefully about how to move forward if Russia decides to defend Syrian airspace more forcefully. It would need to find a way to convince Israel to respect Syrian airspace while ensuring that Israel remains secure from attack, something the United States would need to cooperate with Moscow to achieve.
Washington has so far remained quiet. If the recent statements were mere posturing by Russia, it can comfortably continue to do so. If not, it will have to get involved in brokering a deal, lest Israeli tensions with Russia escalate and create a new powder keg in a region that already has too many.
In Russia, COVID-19 surge shows no signs of abating .
MOSCOW (AP) — Daily coronavirus cases and deaths in Russia remained at all-time highs Wednesday as more regions announced extending existing restrictions in an effort to tame the country's unrelenting surge of infections. Russia's state coronavirus task force reported over 40,000 new confirmed cases from a day earlier, the most since the start of the pandemic. It was the fifth time in seven days that the country set a daily case record. The taskRussia's state coronavirus task force reported over 40,000 new confirmed cases from a day earlier, the most since the start of the pandemic. It was the fifth time in seven days that the country set a daily case record.