Russia’s grand foray into the Syrian civil war has analysts and policymakers scrambling to make sense of Vladimir Putin’s long-term plans. Let’s be clear, Moscow is securing Bashar Al Assad’s regime, which has been steadily losing territory and troops over the past year. The timing of Russia’s air attack on rebel targets also suggests that Russia is diverting attention from the continuing crisis in eastern Ukraine and demonstrating its fresh foreign policy – one that pits Russian interests against those of the United States.
For Russia and the United States, Syria is now a proxy battleground. Both countries’ goals have little to do with the fate of Syria as a single state, the well-being of the Syrian people (Russia has refused to join any programme to help Syrian refugees) or the equitable resolution of the conflict. The pressing question is how US and Russian allies involved in Syria will react to this unavoidable reality.
When it comes to proxy wars in the Middle East, Israel and Turkey are historically never far away. Indeed, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several senior Israeli military officials travelled to Moscow two weeks ago. There they discussed Mr Putin’s plans for military action in Syria.
This is noteworthy. Israel is perceived to be America’s great ally in the Middle East. Yet Tel Aviv’s relationship with Moscow is extraordinarily close. There are more than 1 million Russians residing in Israel, many of whom hold dual citizenship. The countries are reportedly close to signing a far-reaching free trade agreement, and the Israeli arms industry has warm relations with Russia, particularly in the realm of drone sales.
It is a barely kept secret that Israel has been active in supporting various rebel factions active in Syria since the outbreak of the conflict. Israel has provided medical treatment to fighters from Al Nusra Front and has conducted regular air strikes on Hizbollah convoys in the occupied Golan Heights. As such, Israel’s military objectives in Syria appear to be much closer to Turkey’s than Russia’s despite Tel Aviv’s blase approach to Bashar Al Assad’s government.
Picture: Burak Su (Gezi parkı) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons