By attacking Assad’s Russian-guarded territory and then publicly asserting the right and intent to continue doing so as needed to prevent Hezbollah/Lebanon from acquiring arms Israel does not want them to have, Israel has launched an embarrassing challenge to Russia, effectively telling the world that, Putin’s year-long military intervention in the Mideast notwithstanding, it is Israel rather than Russia that stands supreme as military arbiter of the Mideast.
Observers can only wonder if, during Netanyahu’s recent visit, Putin truly offered him permission to attack Russia’s allies at will and subsequently brag about it…and what Putin imagines he will receive in return. Israeli media hypothesized that indeed Putin may have made such a concession:
Friday’s strikes resemble closely the pattern of the attack in December 2015 on a Damascus suburb in which nine operatives working for Iran were killed, including Samir Kuntar, the murderer of an Israeli family who had been released by Israel in a prisoner exchange in 2008 and was believed to be planning new cross-border raids. That strike took place just three days after Netanyahu and Putin had spoken by telephone and was the first to be carried out after Russia had placed an air-defense shield over large areas of Syria, including its capital.
It was unlikely then, back in December 2015 and on Friday, that Israel would have attacked in Syria, within Russia’s zone of operations, if it thought the Kremlin would react with anger. [Haaretz 3/19/17.]
Whatever Putin conceded in private, he no longer looks like the leader of a rising superpower.
As for Netanyahu, he risks much so publicly making a fool out of Putin. One may fairly question the likelihood that Putin will be content to enjoy the pleasures of managing the Mideast in practice if he must appear to be kowtowing to the likes of PM/FM Netanyahu and DM Lieberman.
Yet, there is thought behind the risk. What Netanyahu and Co. stand to gain from exposing the real value of Russian protection for Israel’s Shi’i adversaries goes far beyond a few weapons for Hezbollah. If Russia can only protect its allies to the degree permitted by Netanyahu, both Syria and Iran will have fundamental cause to reconsider their alliance with Russia.
Russia’s RT news station quoted the Israeli Defense Minister’s blunt warning that “Israel’s security is above everything else; there will be no compromise.”
Lieberman left no room for consideration of the security of Russia’s allies. Will Putin trade his Shi’i crescent alliance cutting across the center of the Mideast for an alliance with the increasingly right-wing Israel? With Israel demanding the freedom to defy Russian interests, it is not clear how Russia would benefit from such a deal. With his Syrian military bases in operation and his plan to split Turkey from NATO progressing smoothly, is Putin now trying to hijack a certain unsinkable aircraft carrier?