Last Thursday, White House stated that National Security Advisor John Bolton will soon meet his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev and Israeli Prime Minister’s Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat in al-Quds (Jerusalem). The announcement raises questions about meeting of the rivals. What is the aim of the three-party meeting, with regard to the very sensitive developments taking place in the region? What are the results?
Recent Israeli and American moves
The trio is set to hold a meeting titled “regional security summit.” Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in a report, citing a number of Western diplomats, said that the future of Iranian political presence in Syria will be the top discussion matter in the trilateral meeting. After White House statement, the US President Donald Trump said he personally suggested the meeting and called the approval of the invitation “unprecedented.” So, very likely, the top driving force for the meeting is the Israeli security interests.
Over the past months, the US, as well as some Arab states, have intensified the moves aimed at serving the Israeli interests. Tel Aviv struggles to block all channels of possible crisis spread to its borders on the threshold of the so-called “deal of the century.” The efforts are initiated primarily at the political level. One of the possible spots from where crisis can enter the Israeli borders is Syria, a country whose territory (Golan Heights) is occupied by the Israeli regime and its government is antipathetic to Tel Aviv. Syria also hosts 9 Palestinian refugee camps with over half a million population. The Israelis are highly concerned to see a repeat of Nakbah Day incidents of 2011 during which Palestinian protestors on the Syrian side stormed the fence into the occupied Golan Heights.
Tel Aviv has a very trivial role in Syria, limited to airstrikes on Syrian government’s positions that only have short-term effects and can even be hazardous to its security. Over the past year, the Israeli officials worked hard to bring Russia and the US under a unified circle to help secure a bigger role of the Israeli regime. In June last year, the US National Security Advisor John Bolton met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in al-Quds, where the two discussed ways to scale down the Iranian influence in Syria and put economic strains on Tehran. To complete his pressure campaign, Bolton during his trip to Geneva in late August 2018 met Patrochev. However, the two powers had many sticking points barring them from issuing a closing statement. The Israelis continued their efforts to bring Russia to their side via military diplomacy. On February 27, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tel Aviv and Moscow agreed to set up a joint work group on Syria to arrange for foreign forces exit and stabilization of the country. He, however, declined to make specification about the makeup of the work group.
June meeting’s topic and the sides’ postures
The challenging part of the Asharq Al-Awsat report is the already-made agreement on a “roadmap” for Syria. In this roadmap, the US and the Israeli regime ask Russia to contain Iran’s role in Syria and control the political process in the war-ravaged country in return for such privileges as reconstruction, recognition of Assad rule, and lifting of the sanctions on Damascus. The London-based newspaper further reports about the pressure tools of the US in the face of Russia that include keeping forces in Eastern Euphrates, European participation in Eastern Syria Alliance, unrecognizing Assad, and blocking efforts to normalize Syria situation after nine years of a fierce war. Earlier this week, a US military official in an interview with The National news outlet of the UAE denied the report saying the US position revolves around UNSC resolution 2254 and Geneva peace process that call for inclusive dialogue, a new constitution, and general election.
The Israelis are seeking an American-Russian agreement in which the Syrian security is defined based on Israeli security. To this end, an Israeli delegation, led by Ben-Shabbat, in April met with Bolton in Washington. After the meeting, Bolton in a Twitter post highlighted the American-Israeli cooperation against what he called Iranian hostile activities in the region. Hebrew-language newspapers called the upcoming meeting a warning to Iran and other regional groups. The trilateral meeting is the last piece in a series of Israeli moves against Iran’s regional sway. It, in fact, wants to harvest the outcome of a year of struggling to bring the US and Russia into a unified stance against Iran.
But a couple of points determine the outcome of the meeting.
1. Russia may show a willingness to work with the US in Syria due to economic pressures and the pro-Israeli lobbies in the Russian politics but it will never approve of a Washington-dictated order in the region and Syria after the massive military costs in Syria. Moscow already was double-crossed by Washington in accepting the UNSC resolution 1973 on Libya in 2011 that paved the way for NATO military intervention in the North African nation. It was then put out of the Libyan game. That is why so far Russia blocked over 12 resolutions on Syria, displaying sharpness in saving its upper hand and balance of power in Syria.
2. The US lacks a clear-cut strategy in Syria. Despite the fact that Trump talked about troops’ removal from the Arab country, he faces European and bipartisan objections. So, giving Eastern Euphrates is not an appropriate privilege to Russia.
3. Iran’s advisory presence in Syria and management of the ground forces have been key to the Syrian army’s victories over foreign-backed terrorist groups. This factor is much needed for the success of the decisive Idlib recapture operation, underway since a month. Washington and Tel Aviv will never make reliable alternative allies to Tehran for Moscow. So, in addition to the non-viability for Moscow of alliance with Tel Aviv and Washington due to the strategic Iranian-Syrian relationship, Iran’s exit from Syria will prompt risks of return of terrorism to Syria and even increased threat to the Russian military bases in Syria. It will also damage the solidifying alliance between Russia and Tehran.
4. The “deal of the century” on Palestine, to which this summit seems to be a prelude, is failing. Recently, at a meeting with Jewish organizations leaders, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cast doubt on the success of the initiative, saying the deal “got two good things and nine bad things.” So, the upcoming summit will not realize Netanyahu’s sweet dreams because it lacks a realistic vision of the regional developments and conflict of security interests of the three actors.