World View: Russia-Israel Alliance Grows as Russia-Iran Alliance Frays in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, walk during their meeting marking 75th anniversary of the 75th anniversary of the Sobibor uprising, the only successful uprising that took place in a death camp during World War II at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in …
Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Israeli airstrike on Syria-Iraq border kills dozens of Shia militia fighters
  • Russia-Israel alliance grows, while Russia-Iran alliance frays in Syria

Israeli airstrike on Syria-Iraq border kills dozens of Shia militia fighters

Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin at a joint press conference in Sochi (AFP)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin at a joint press conference in Sochi (AFP)

An airstrike on Iraqi Shia militias on Sunday evening killed dozens of fighters supporting the regime of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. The airstrike targeted a position in Syria’s Deir az-Zour province, near the border with Iraq.

Syrian media blamed the U.S.-led coalition for the airstrike. According to the report from Syrian media SANA, the fighters were from the regime army, and they were fighting ISIS:

A military source said in a statement to SANA that the US-led coalition on Sunday targeted one of our military positions in the town of Al-Hiri, southeast of al-Boukamal city, leaving a number of martyrs and wounding other people.

The coalition has been targeting the military positions in a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale of the terrorist organizations due to the achievements of the Syrian army.

The field reports confirm that Washington provides Daesh [ISIS] organization with various kinds of support to prevent its collapse and invest it to keep its forces illegally in the Syrian territory and steal the economic resources in the eastern region through its mercenaries of terrorist groups.

By Monday evening, numerous reports have come up describing errors in the SANA report, essentially making it “fake news.”

Most important, the U.S.-led coalition had conducted no airstrikes in the region on Sunday evening, and the U.S. military repeatedly denied that the U.S. coalition had anything to do with the airstrike.

Second, there have been reports that the most likely force behind the airstrikes was the Israeli military. Israel is refusing comment, but unnamed Israeli military sources are confirming this off the record.

Israel rarely comments on its airstrikes in Syria, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that Israel is “already taking action” against Iran in Syria:

Over the weekend I spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. We discussed regional issues and focused – of course – on Syria.

I reiterated our guiding principles regarding Syria. First of all, Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria. Second, we will take action – and are already taking action – against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria. We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.

This statement by Netanyahu actually represents a bit of an expansion of previously announced policy. Previous policy indicated that Israeli airstrikes would be focused on southern Syria, along the border with the Israeli-governed Golan Heights. In Sunday’s statement, Netanyahu made it clear that Israel will strike pro-Iranian targets anywhere in Syria. That statement clears up some confusion about whether Israel could have been responsible for the Sunday evening airstrike, whose target had been much deeper into Syria than previous Israeli airstrikes.

A final problem with the Sana story is that it was not clear about what forces the Israeli airstrikes were targeting. It has emerged that 40-50 militia fighters were killed, a combination of Syrian army forces, Iraqi Hezbollah forces, and Iran-backed members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) umbrella organization, which takes its orders from Iran’s Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. SANA (Damascus) and CNN and Debka (Israel) and Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Russia-Israel alliance grows, while Russia-Iran alliance frays in Syria

Netanyahu’s statement, quoted above, confirms something that has been increasingly clear for at least two years: Israel’s alliance with Russia is growing, and Russia is doing nothing to stop Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria.

That Russia’s relationship with Israel is getting closer could not have been demonstrated more clearly than when Russia openly accepted Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital and on June 14 attended a celebration of Russia’s Independence Day at a reception being held in Jerusalem.

Russia, Iran, and Turkey formed an alliance in 2015 to support al-Assad in Syria’s civil war, with each one taking on a different “assignment.” But it has always been fairly certain that once these “assignments” were completed, then there would be no one left for them to fight except each other since they all had different objectives.

Russia’s objective was to establish Russian military bases in Syria, and it has accomplished that with naval and air bases. Iran’s objective was to establish its own bases in Syria, where they could be used to launch attacks on Israel. Russia does not want Iran to have bases in Syria, and more important, Russia does not want a full-scale war between Iran and Israel.

Iran does have thousands of trainers, advisors, technicians, and other support specialists to make the Syrian Army and their Iranian allies. According to one estimate, Iran supervises over 50,000 mercenary forces in Syria, mainly Shias from Afghanistan and Lebanon. As we reported in 2015, al-Assad’s army was near collapse and saved only through the intervention of Russian bombers and Iranian mercenaries.

As the role of the Iranian mercenaries winds down, Russia is demanding that “all foreign troops” (except themselves) leave Syria. Of course, this is nominally directed at the Americans and Turks, but it is also directed at the Iranians. One thing most everyone can agree on, including most European and Middle Eastern nations, is that Iran should get out of Syria. Until that happens, the chances of a war between Israel and Iran in Syria will continue to grow. Al-Monitor and Strategy Page (12-June) and Spectator (UK) and Media Line

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Deir az-Zour, Iraq, Golan Heights, Popular Mobilization Forces, PMU, Qassem Soleimani, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh
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