Key words: Israel, Syria, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, USA, Kurds.
Elijah J. Magnier – @EjmAlrai
Israel has bombed Damascus destroying fuel oil and weapons stockpiles at the capital’s airport. Iranian flights transport weapons and ammunitions on a regular basis to Damascus airport as part of its “struggle against terror”, but also to arm the seven brigades operating under its command over the entire Syrian territory, from the north to the south of the country. Moreover, Iran is also responsible for arming and training other Syrian groups related to the struggle against Israel, mirroring the Lebanese Hezbollah group. In fact, the 6 years of the Syrian war were fertile enough to enable many Syrians to join Iran and Hezbollah and to adopt their cause, especially as Israel occupies Syrian territory: the Golan heights.
But most important is the timing of the Israeli hit, that comes only a few hours after the announcement by Moscow that its forces controlled the entire Syrian air space, hinting that no jet would be allowed without previous coordination and consensus from the Russians- who are in self-declared fashion, the ones holding the magic wand to make a good or bad weather in Bilad al-Sham.
This Israeli challenge strikes at the Russian image in the Middle East, presenting Moscow – a superpower no doubt – as either soft, or in harmony with Israeli action in Syria. In both cases, for the Middle Easterners, Russia becomes a weaker partner, not up to their image of a superpower. If Russia doesn’t react against Tel Aviv’s continuous violation of Syrian airspace and hit different targets in the capital, south and other parts of the country, the conspiracy theory will prevail. Moscow has to react to this or any other Israeli attack against Syria.
Most importantly, Tel Aviv managed through its multiple calculations and control of arms to hit Damascus immediately following the visit of the Moldova born Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a conference on International Security in Moscow. Israel relied on the well-known passive Russian stance towards the Iranian-Israeli-Hezbollah struggle. However, this gave a kind of permission to Tel Aviv to hit targets in Damascus that naturally “represent a danger to Israel’s national security”.
This Israeli attack ordered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu carried several messages and tests the pulse of Russia’s reaction, challenging – from an apparently innocent position –the chess and Judo player Vladimir Putin and to boot scoring a point against the Kremlin. Moreover, Tel Aviv had its revenge on Lavrov who had said, hours before the Israeli attack on Damascus, that “Hezbollah is not a terrorist organisation”. Lavrov, during a press conference with the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir considered the presence of the Lebanese group and Iran as being as legitimate as that of the Russian Army.
But Russia is not the only superpower whose pride and image in Syria were hit (without disregarding its determined military role on the ground and its unconditional stand with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations). The United States position was also shaken, when Washington said it is watching with deep concern the Turkish attack against the Kurdish Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey is a NATO member and the American ally, while the YPG militants fight alongside the US Special Operation Forces against the “Islamic State” (ISIS) group in Tabqa and Raqqah. The US position increased Syrian chaos and confusion: Washington looked weak and incapable of protecting an essential ally in the fight against ISIS. The Syrian Kurds are risking their lives offering tremendous sacrifices in a hostile and disharmonious region (the Kurds and the Arab tribes in the Raqqah province are not in excellent terms with one another) with a very slim gain.
Turkey wanted to deliver a message to both superpowers (Russia and the US) that its role cannot be neglected or ignored in Syria. Russia surrounded the Turkish Army and its Syrian proxies in the northern city of Al-Bab and the US around Manbij to prevent Turkey from advancing further in Syrian territory under the pretext of fighting ISIS. Ankara’s new Sultan managed to hit three birds (US, Russia and the YPG) with one stone without triggering any reaction, mainly because of the two superpowers’ fear of more involvement in the Syrian quagmire.
Syria has become the stage for contradictory alliances,a kind of stadium where all players close the doors behind them with everybody on the field, all in one small space, playing and fighting: no one can come off or take distance or be a spectator. The struggle of so many countries on Syrian territory has damaged the reputation of many of these players. The Kurds will think carefully before declaring animosity towards Damascus because the US “doesn’t have friends”, only business partners serving its interests. While Moscow wants to establish itself in the Middle East with boots and military presence on the ground, and-indeed-wants to have friends, it is learning the complexity of the Middle East the hard way : it is indeed trying to play the game but receiving hits below the belt, apparently unaware that, in this part of the World, there are no rules that stand for ever.