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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Moscow for his fourth visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin in just one year. The discussions with Putin will focus mainly on the situation in Syria where President Bashar al-Assad recently said that he will continue to fight for every inch of Syrian soil.
The fact that Netanyahu visits Putin every three months speaks volumes concerning the tectonic shifts in the balance of power in the Middle East and about the diminishing role of the United States in the region. Just a year ago it would have been unthinkable that an Israeli leader would consult the Russian president more than his American counterpart, yet that is the situation today.
“We place great importance on our relationship with Israel,” Putin said at the beginning of the first meeting with Netanyahu in the Kremlin. The Russian president gave the Israeli PM a private tour of the Kremlin and pointed to biblical images on the walls of the compound.
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Netanyahu said the visit will later be remembered as a turning point in the 25 years of Russian-Israeli ties and highlighted the fact that more than a million Russian speakers live in Israel. Some of those Russian immigrants are members of the Israeli government today, including Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who translated Netanyahu’s remarks in Russian for Putin.
On Thursday, Netanyahu revealed the real reason for his visit to Putin when he discussed the war in Syria with Russian reporters. The Israeli PM said Israel is extremely worried that Iran will get a foothold in the area of the Syrian Golan Heights near Israel’s border.
“We have a red line, a boundary that we will not allow to be broken. Iran will not be allowed, using Hezbollah, to use Syrian territory to attack us and open up another terrorist front against us in the Golan,” Netanyahu said before his second meeting with Putin.
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“We have made a point of staying out of the Syrian conflict, with two exceptions: treating wounded Syrians on a humanitarian basis and preventing Iran from using Syria to attack Israel or to transfer sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. We don’t know what will come of Syria, but in any arrangement, it cannot be an Iranian base for terrorism and aggression,” the Israeli leader said.
“Israel will continue to share its concerns with the Russian government regarding Hezbollah. This terrorist group has called for the murder of every Jew and therefore must be prevented from acquiring advanced weaponry from anyone. Hezbollah launched thousands of missiles at our civilians, and we will not allow them to amass even more sophisticated weaponry on our border,” Netanyahu added.
The concerns of the Israeli PM regarding Iran’s activities seem to be justified.
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To understand this one needs to take a closer look at what Iran is doing in Iraq and Syria and the American role in the Iranian attempts to expand its influence in these countries.
First, there is the situation in Iraq where the Iraqi army, together with Iranian-backed Shiite militias, is trying to liberate the city of Fallujah. The whole operation is supervised, not by the Iraqi government but by Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. This has been confirmed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
The Iranians were the ones who decided that Fallujah should be the next city that would be retaken from ISIS- rather than Mosul- because of the threat to Baghdad. Most ISIS suicide attacks on the Iraqi capital originate from Fallujah, and they pose a threat to the government of Prime Minister al-Abadi, who does Iran’s bidding in Iraq.
Another possible reason for the decision to retake Fallujah is the control over the Anbar Province that would open the way to the Jordanian border and from there to the Jordan River.
Fallujah is not the only front where Iran is active in Iraq.
In northern Iraq not far from Mosul Iraq’s second-largest city, the Iranians are building a large military base where they are setting up all sorts of missile launchers. As analyst Jennifer Dyer has pointed out in an excellent article, the consequences of Iranian control of those missiles is Iran’s ability to disrupt the operations of the U.S. air force in Iraq, as well as a the possibility of complete Iranian control over the battlespace.
In Syria, Iran appears to already have a base where it is suspected to have stored nuclear material and possibly nuclear weapons. The base in Al-Qusayr has been controlled by Iranian officers and Hezbollah since the middle of 2013.
Furthermore, despite reports earlier this year that Iran had decided to withdraw all its troops from Syria, the Quds Brigade of the IRCG is still actively involved in the battle on behalf of Assad.
This was proven by a report of the death of 50 members of the IRCG and a Quds commander near Aleppo in Syria published last week.
Quds Force’s special operations commander Jahangir Jafari Naya together with 50 Iranian commando’s of the Quds Force were killed in an attack that was carried out by Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda branch in Syria.
It was the second time in a month that Jabhat al-Nusra delivered a blow to the Iranians and Hezbollah in Syria. On May 6, 30 members of Hezbollah and the IRCG died in a fierce battle in the town of Khan Touman south of Aleppo.
You may wonder if the Obama administration is aware of the growing threat that is emanating from Iran’s activities in Iraq and Syria.
Iran expert Lee Smith says they are, and claims the administration is willfully and actively helping to replace the Islamic State with the Islamic Republic in Iraq and Syria.
After explaining what is happening with Iran in Iraq and Syria and the administration’s reaction to it, Smith wrote a devastating analysis for the Weekly Standard:
Obama is not a bystander, an impartial observer who just decided to let American allies—or in his words “free riders”—twist in the wind while America turned to its domestic issues. He switched sides. The president has been playing for the opposing team for several years now and has enlisted the government of the United States, including its armed forces, the intelligence community, and diplomatic corps, on the side of Iran.
The evidence of realignment has been out there for half a decade. The White House leaked news of Israeli strikes on Iranian arms convoys transiting Syria and destined for Hezbollah. Jerusalem was furious since it feared that publicity would embarrass their adversaries and drive them to make war. But what mattered to the Obama administration was keeping the Israelis off balance and proving to the Iranians that Washington had Benjamin Netanyahu on a short leash.
The administration shared intelligence with a Hezbollah-controlled unit of the Lebanese Armed Forces. When the White House finally decided to support Syrian rebels, it was on the condition that they fight only ISIS, and not Assad and his allies. And of course the key piece of evidence that Obama switched sides is that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action not only cost Iran nothing but showered Tehran with a windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars, money it can use to wage its war against Sunnis in Syria and Iraq.
Thus, Netanyahu chose Moscow, not Washington to discuss the growing Iranian threat to Israel.