The summit between Presidents Trump and Putin could bring rearrangements for the Middle East and Ukraine, and if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets President Putin in the next few days, it will be in their tenth meeting in the past two years.
Magen believes it was Israel that brought Trump into this business. Some even think that Israel acts as the main mediator between the US and Russia. For a long time Russia tried to communicate with America, but it was always shown the cold shoulder – despite the Russian fight against ISIS.
Although Netanyahu refused Putin’s generous invitation to participate in the last World Cup match in Russia, as good friends would do together, yet the cancellation may be related to the fact that Netanyahu will travel to Moscow earlier. The date is important because a just a few days before Putin’s summit with US President Donald Trump in Helsinki July 16, Netanyahu will discuss some issues that are of some urgency.
At first glance, the simple explanation would be that Israel and the US would try to convince Russia to get rid of the Iranian presence on all Syrian soil. Another false assumption is that Israel is reluctantly willing to accept the rule of Assad, who was rescued by the Russians.
In fact, Israel, Russia, and America now share the same position with regard to Syria: they are actively interested in keeping Assad in power. Russia needs him there as a strategic partner. Trump has no interest in dealing with a problem he inherited from Obama. Israel prefers a powerful politician to the various types of mercenary militia involved in the war on its northern border.
None of the three states has an interest in the presence of Iran or its deputies in Syria. Israel and America for obvious reasons, and Russia prefers control of the Syrian government to involvement by Iran. Assad’s massive dependence on Russia is good news for Israel, not for Iran.
This development makes Assad an important strategic partner for Israel. But as always in the Orient and the Middle East, there is much more give and take to this exchange. “Israel and Russia reached a far-reaching understanding in May of this year when the Israeli anthem was played on the Red Square in Moscow on the day of the Russian victory over the Nazis in the presence of Netanyahu. It was not a small gesture, “says Zvi Magen, who is knowledgeable in the topic like no other. Magen was, among his many other positions, formerly Israeli ambassador to Russia and to Ukraine and worked as a senior military intelligence officer for the Israeli army. He is currently Senior Fellow at the Institute for National Security.
Magen told German Business News: “The understanding between Russia and Israel regarding Assad and Iran has a price. In return, Russia expects American compensation at the upcoming Trump and Putin summit, and a supportive attitude towards Russian interests in Crimea, Ukraine and Eastern Europe ” According to Magen, Europe is deeply concerned about the Russian-American rapprochement. The Europeans wondered “what reward Trump will offer Russia so that the Russians minimize Iran’s role in Syria or even push it back completely out of the country.”
Magen believes that it was Israel that brought Trump into this business. Some even think that Israel acts as the main mediator between the US and Russia. For a long time Russia tried to communicate with America, but it was always shown the cold shoulder – despite the Russian fight against ISIS.
“Nobody talked to them,” says Magen. The Russians themselves have become suspicious because they suspect that the US instead of cooperating, wants to engage Russia in a long war in Syria.
In fact, Russia must be careful not to fall into a trap like the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, where the country had to pull out after a ten-year war without having achieved anything.
Therefore, the Russians will be careful not to be on the side of possible losers in the Middle East reorganization. Moscow will be careful to connect with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States with the US-Israeli axis and not rely solely on Iran, Iraq, and Yemen.
Under Putin, Russia has always sought a partnership with the West, despite its reorientation towards Eurasia. Entry into this “club” was denied to the Russians.
Zvi Magen expects that there could be a deal – though probably not public – between Trump and Putin in Helsinki: Russia ensures that Iran does not play a leading role in Syria, and the Americans come towards Putin in Ukraine and the Crimea. The EU fears that there could be a direct understanding between the US and Russia. This would cancel out the Minsk process, for which Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular has always fought. However, apart from a fragile ceasefire, the process has achieved little – certainly no perspective for the future of Eastern Ukraine.
Trump himself provided a clue that it could go in this direction a few days ago: Trump had hinted to journalists aboard Air orce One about a possible recognition of the Crimea. Asked by the journalists, whether the US will recognize Russia’s claim to the Crimea, he replied: “We will have to see about it (…) I will talk to him about everything. We will talk about Ukraine, we will talk about Syria … ”
According to Magen and some other experts, Israel plays a key role in this development – Israel could either benefit from the development, or nullify each step. Above all, the realization dominating these complex arrangements is that Trump’s long-awaited peace plan should not be limited to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but should be a plan for the whole region. Under these new circumstances, Israel could on the one hand accept Assad and offer its humanitarian aid to civilian refugees at its border. Both steps should, according to Magen, be the basis of future relationships.
*Lily Galili is one Israel’s most renowned journalists. She worked for the Ha’aretz newspaper for many years, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and is now an author for I-24News. Her reports focus on the ethnic groups in Israel: Arabs, Druze, and Russians. She has written a well-publicized book about Russian immigrants. She is a member of the Syrian Aid Committee.