Iranian President Rohani, a pragmatist, was elected in 2013 which led to a diplomatic thaw between the Islamic Republic and the West. Finally, after 20 months of “strenuous” negotiations between Iran, the P5+1 and Iran the JCPOA on the nuclear program of Iran was reached in July 2015 to ensure that Islamic Republic’s future nuclear program would be exclusively peaceful.
It was a landmark comprehensive nuclear agreement after the longest continuous negotiations with the presence of all foreign ministers of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The agreement was very complex. One of the signatories, Robert J. Einhorn, a former U.S. Department of State official now at the Brookings Institution, said of the agreement: “Analysts will be pleasantly surprised. The more things are agreed to, the less opportunity there is for implementation difficulties later on.” The agreement had been founded upon , and also reinforced, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA safeguards system.
According to several commentators, JCPOA was the first of its kind in the annals of non-proliferation and is in many aspects unique. This was the first time that the United Nations Security Council had recognized the nuclear enrichment program of a developing country –Iran–and backed an agreement (JCPOA) signed by several countries within the framework of a resolution (United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231).For the first time in the history of the United Nations, a country –Iran– was able to abolish 6 UN resolutions against it –1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835, 1929– without even one day of implementing them. Sanctions against Iran was also lifted for the first time. The 159-page JCPOA document and its 5 appendixes, was the most spacious text of a multinational treaty since World War II. Throughout history of international law, this was the first and only time that a country subject to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter –Iran– has managed to end its case and stop being subject to this chapter through diplomacy, all other cases have ended to either regime change, war or full implementation of the Security Council’s decisions by the country. Iran had agreed to strict limits on its nuclear program and extensive monitoring in return for the lifting of sanctions. In addition, it was agreed that Iran would have cooperate with an inquiry looking into evidence of past work on nuclear warhead design.
A brief summary of the main points:
1.Iran will not produce weapons-grade plutonium and limit its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67% to 300 kilograms for the next 15 years.
2.Tehran also agreed to modernize its nuclear facilities and use them for exclusively peaceful purposes.
3.Sanctions will be gradually removed from Iran.
4.The arms embargo imposed by UN Security Council will be kept in place for five years, ban for supplying ballistic missile technologies to Iran – for eight years.
5.Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will monitor nuclear facilities in Iran for the next 25 years.
6.If any points of the agreement are violated by Iran, sanctions against the country will be renewed.
The Main Points of the JCPOA:
1.Uranium enrichment capacity
Iran’s current capacity of 19,000 gas centrifuges would be reduced by more than two-thirds to 6,104, out of which just over 5,000 would actually be enriching uranium. All of them would be first-generation centrifuges based on technology going back to the 1950s. Furthermore, for the first 15 years of the deal Iran would not enrich beyond the level of 3.67% purity, low-enriched uranium (LEU) of the kind used in nuclear power stations.
2.The enriched uranium stockpile
Iran’s stockpile of LEU would be reduced from its current level of about 7,500kgto 300kg, a reduction of 96%. The reduction would be achieved either by shipping the uranium abroad or by diluting it.
3.Research, development and future enrichment capacity
There would be limits on the R&D work Iran could do on advanced centrifuges, so that it could not suddenly upgrade its enrichment capacity after the first 10 years of the agreement and bring its breakout time down from one year to a few weeks almost overnight. Iran would be able to test experimental new centrifuges on a small scale according to a gradual plan.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have full access to all Iran’s declared nuclear sites as at present, but with much more advanced technology than they are using now. Inspectors would be able to visit non-declared sites where they think nuclear work might be going on. A commission made up of a range of IAEA members would be set up to judge whether the inspectors’ access requests are justified, and would take its decision by majority vote.
5.Investigation into past activity
Iran has agreed a “road map” with the IAEA officials by which it would provide access to facilities and people suspected of involvement in past experimental work on warhead design, managed by a centralized and covert unit, mostly before 2004. The IAEA would have to certify Iranian cooperation with the inquiry before Iran benefits from sanctions relief.
As Iran takes the agreed steps listed above to reduce the capacity and proliferation risk of its nuclear infrastructure, the US and EU would provide guarantees that financial and economic sanctions will be suspended or cancelled. The EU would stop its oil embargo and end its banking sanctions, and Iran would be allowed to participate in the Swift electronic banking system that is the lifeblood of international finance. Barack Obama would issue presidential waivers suspending the operation of US trade and financial sanctions.
7.A new UN security council resolution and the arms embargo
The JCPOA will be incorporated into a new security council resolution intended to replace and supersede six earlier sanctions resolutions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program. The resolution will be passed before the end of the month but the agreement will not take effect for 90 days, allowing for the domestic political review to be completed. An arms embargo on Iran would remain in place for five years, and a ban on the transfer of missile technology would stay for eight years.
On July 20,2015 the corresponding resolution on Iran’s nuclear program agreement was adopted by UN Security Council.
October 18, 2015 marks “Adoption Day” under the JCPOA – the day on which the JCPOA becomes effective and participants begin to make the necessary preparations for implementation of their JCPOA commitments. In connection with Adoption Day, on October 18, 2015, the United States President issued a memorandum directing his administration to take all appropriate preparatory measures to ensure the prompt and effective implementation of the U.S. commitments set forth in the JCPOA upon Iran’s fulfillment of the requisite conditions. In particular, the US President directed the agencies to take steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in the JCPOA. In addition, on October 18, 2015, the Secretary of State issued contingent waivers of certain statutory sanctions provisions. These waivers were not currently in effect and will only take effect on Implementation Day.. Thus, the US was signaling Iran that the country was ready to do more than whatw as required to implement the JCPOA.
JCPOA ‘s Annex V – Implementation Plan1 which describes the sequence of the actions specified in the agreement clearly states in section A. Finalization Day (2-4) that Iran and the IAEA will start “developing necessary arrangements to implement all transparency measures provided for in this JCPOA so that such arrangements are completed, in place, and ready for implementation”. Meanwhile, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution endorsing this JCPOA, the provisions imposed in UN Security Council resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015) will be “terminated subject to re-imposition in the event of significant nonperformance by Iran of JCPOA commitments, and specific restrictions, including restrictions regarding the transfer of proliferation sensitive goods will apply”.
Thus, the onus of compliance was primarily on Iran and any failure would result in the re-imposition of the sanctions regoime under the UN. Thus, all concessions given to Iran were conditional on very strict compliance of the JCPOA.
The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
The IAEA, United Nations nuclear watchdog, had a crucial role in the implementation of the JCPOA. Theew was also separate “roadmap” agreement between Iran and the IAEA, undr which the agency would have to investigate the military dimensions of Iran’s program, issue a report, and then close Iran’s decade-old file within before the deal could come into effect. For sanctions on Iran to be lifted, the IAEA must first verify that e Iran had honored all its commitments under the July deal, including dismantling large numbers of its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and filling parts of its Arak nuclear site with cement. The closure of the IAEA’s nuclear weaponization probe was one of the prerequisites for the implementation of the JCPA.
The IAEA conducted a 12-year long survey on Iran’s nuclear program. Finally, on December 15, 2015 the IAEA closed the book on the possible military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, finding that they were limited to feasibility and scientific studies and did not proceed beyond 2009, bringing an international nuclear accord with Iran a step closer to implementation. The resolution moved Iran another step closer to large-scale sanctions relief following its deal with world powers this summer. Thus, Iran had cleared one of the nuclear deal’s most important hurdles. Iran had yet to complete other provisions for implementing the deal, including removing the core of its plutonium reactor, scrapping much of its nuclear-fuel stockpile and removing thousands of centrifuges from its nuclear facilities. Iranian and U.S. officials have said that could be accomplished as early as January—one month ahead of parliamentary elections in Iran.
On December 15, 2015, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iran was moving quickly to meet its commitments. Iran hoped to put the restrictions in place within two to three weeks. The restrictions Iran must put in place include drastically reducing the number of centrifuges installed at its underground enrichment sites, removing the core vessel of a reactor at Arak and shrinking its stockpile of enriched uranium..
The IAEA must verify that Iran has put the required nuclear restrictions in place for sanctions to be lifted. Iran had been racing to keep its side of the JCPOA deal. The next step was for Iran to complete the necessary preparatory steps to start implementing the JCPOA. On receipt of an IAEA report verifying that Iran had taken all actions specified in the JCPOA, the agency would then terminate the relevant resolutions it had previously passed in connection with Iran’s nuclear program. This will allow Iran to participate in all IAEA technical cooperation activities, for instance. Meanwhile, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said on December 16, 2015 that Iran would carry out its remaining obligations and would now dismantle some nuclear centrifuges and ship out a major portion of its stockpile of enriched uranium
The Implementation Day is a major landmark in the JCPOA and will occur only once the IAEA verifies that Iran has implemented key nuclear-related measures specified in the agreement. Several preparatory steps have to be completed by Iran. This will be a major landmark, if and when it occurrs.
The Future of the JCPOA
The United States has taken a step toward lifting at least some sanctions against Iran, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Tehran is fulfilling its obligations in a “transparent” and “verifiable” way under an international agreement on its nuclear program. Kerry made the remarks on December 16, 2015. The Obama administration estimated it would not be until spring that Iran would be in compliance with the terms required for sanctions relief to begin. The sanctions, if and when, lifted would give Iran access to billions in frozen assets and oil revenue. Thus, the United States appeared poised to lift at least some sanctions against Iran — possibly as early as January 2016.
It took a great effort on the part of the US and Iran to reach this agreement. Iran made concessions in order to get rid of the sanctions regime which was crippling its economy. The people of Iran also wanted to end this confrontation with the West. The adoption of the resolution had become the breakthrough in relations between IAEA and Iran. Although, the IAEA’s report strongly suggesting Iran had engaged in activities aimed at developing a nuclear bomb up until 2003 and that there was no credible sign of weapons-related work beyond 2009. Despite the finding, the international response to the report had been “muted”, indicating a desire to go ahead with an agreement that “allayed fears of a wider Middle East war over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, rather than dwell on its past actions”.
Under the JCPOA Iran pledged never under any circumstances to seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the UN Security Council is to consider ending sanctions imposed for its NPT violations once it receives IAEA’s report on verification. Once the deal was implemented, most U.S., U.N. and European Union economic and financial sanctions would be suspended, including Europe’s embargo on Iranian energy. However, an arms ban will remain in replace as well as sanctions on dozens of people and companies associated with Iran’s nuclear program. Iran will also have to seek permission to import so-called dual-use goods, which could be used in an illicit nuclear program. Other U.S. sanctions related to human-rights abuses and support for terror groups, including a “near-comprehensive embargo” on U.S. trade with Iran, will remain in place.
Much work lies ahead to reach this agreement and a further sustained effort will be required to implement it. It isn’t gong o be easy at all. With the lifting of sanctions, Iran was poised to add a half million barrels a day to the saturated world oil supply by mid-2016, once the sanctions relief goes into effect, said Sara Vakhshouri, a senior energy fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. Positive news on Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers “could have a psychological downward impact on the global oil prices,” Vakhshouri said. “This could happen even before Iran increases its export volumes.” Notwithstanding he criticisms, the JCPOA has the potential to provide stability, security and economic prosperity to Iran and thereby help stabilize a volatile region.
Looking for options: The Israeli Establishment and the Syrian Conflict
Israel’s National Security: What’s an issue?
Since its foundation, Israel has based its defense calculations on two concepts: existential security and current security. Existential security concerns the preservation of the very fundamentals of the Zionist enterprise — the preservation of Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. Current security is about maintaining the personal safety and well being of Israelis on a day-to-day basis.
For several decades, Israel has had the good fortune of not having to engage in all-out war with any of its neighbouring states. The country even signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. For decades, however, Israelis have been exposed to a wide range of terrorist assaults: aircraft hijackings, kidnappings, suicide bombings, car rammings, knifings as well as constant rocket attacks. Israelis are, understandably, obsessed with current security — so much that in recent public discourse issues of existential security are being almost completely overshadowed.
At times, Israel’s current security needs are in conflict with the country’s requirements for its long-term existential security. Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is justifiably seen as an asset in maintaining Israel’s current security. However, this very same occupation erodes Israel’s existential security by undermining its Jewish and democratic character as well as its international legitimacy, and thus has an undeniably negative effect on Israel’s long-term survival.
This is exactly what the late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon wanted to avoid. His decision to disengage from Gaza was driven not by rockets but by long-term existential security considerations. Sharon’s goal was to preserve Israel’s Jewish character by ridding itself of any remnants of Jewish settlement and the concomitant direct control over more than a million and a half (now closer to two and a half million) Palestinians in Gaza.
The Israeli military plays a vital role in dealing with current security, which is often intertwined with existential security. They are not mutually exclusive because the ideologies of the terrorist organizations, which Israel deems as a threat to its current security, seek the destruction of the State of Israel, which is a threat to its existential security. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) feels that deterrence is the best strategy to discourage states (such as Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc.) and sub-state actors (such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State [Da’esh], Jabhat Fatah al-Sham [al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra], etc.) from attacking its country. The IDF will not change its deterrence strategy for state and sub-state actors. This is because both actors occupy land and/or have constituencies; thus, they have something to lose.
Israel has three ‘red lines’ of deterrence that are the deciding factors in whether the IDF will respond militarily: (1) transfer of conventional weapons, (2) transfer of chemical weapons, and (3) any projectile(s) landing on its territory. Israel will respond almost immediately with a strike, usually at the source of the weapons exchange or the point of origin of the projectile. It will strike regardless of where or when the incident occurs, all the while coordinating with its partners that might be affected by its actions. This ex-plains Israel’s rationale for military airstrikes against Iranian, Hezbollah, Syrian, and (Salafi) rebel targets in Syria throughout the Civil War.
A Regional Rumble in Syria: Israel’s Concerns over Iranian presence in Syria
Israel sees Iran as both an existential and current security threat. Iran’s rhetoric of wanting to destroy Israel and, according to Israel, attempting to acquire nuclear weapons makes this a cause for grave concern. Moreover, since 1979, Iran has sought to export its Islamic revolution and, over the decades, it has funded many Shi‘a militias—some of which have emerged in the Syrian Civil War—including Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shi‘a political party-cum-militia with a strong military presence in Lebanon and now in Syria—a threatening presence on Israel’s northern border. The reason Israel also deems Hezbollah an existential and current threat is because of Hezbollah’s militant aspirations and its stated goal of eliminating the State of Israel.
The question now remains whether Israel will completely engage in the Syrian Civil War due to the recent incidents in southern Syria. Other than engaging in a complete military conflict in Syria, Israel will continue to monitor the developments in Syria, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that its security concerns are addressed. Currently, Israel is disturbed by recent developments, as there is now an Iranian militarily presence directly in southern Syria. The IDF will continue to implement its red line policy. Escalation will only occur if Israel feels provoked by its enemies in the south of (or other parts of) Syria. The higher the provocation, the stronger the response will be. This is why Israel has reacted to developments in the south of Syria by striking military targets, all the while communicating with its Russian partners.
From Israel’s Binoculars: A View of Damascus
While Israel came very close to concluding a peace agreement with Syria in 1949 under President Husni al-Zaim, the two countries (since the 1949 Armistice Agreement) have had no diplomatic ties and are officially in a state of war. They have fought three wars (1948, 1967, and 1973) and were involved briefly during the second Lebanese Civil War when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Prior to 1967, there were hostilities between the two countries in the demilitarized zones (DMZs) as well as continuous shelling and infiltration into the Golan Heights by the Syrians. Since 1967 the two major points of contention are Israel’s demand that Syria recognizes the State of Israel and Syria’s demand that Israel returns the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered at the end of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. This is the essence of what is commonly known as “land for peace” for any future agreements between the two countries.
According to Israel, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been confrontational to-wards Israel by aiding and abetting Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as being the conduit by which Iranian weapons are transferred to Hezbollah and other Shi‘a militias. Both Iran and Hezbollah, in Israel’s view, are respectively state and sub-state actors that are a threat to its national security. For the same reason, Israel also views Syria as a national security threat. The Israeli establishment was clearly expecting the al-Assad government to fall to the Sunni jihadist rebels, who were supported by Saudi Arabia, prior to Russia’s limited intervention in September 2015. If the ongoing peace negotiations in Sochi and Geneva are successful, it is almost certain that President al-Assad will remain in power or whatever the warring parties in Syria agree upon. Nevertheless, Israel is concerned about a strengthened al-Assad government remaining in power. That would be the best explanation for why it was recently revealed that Israel is arming some Sunni jihadist rebels. Israel is willing to ally itself with Salafist rebels in order to prevent the “Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah axis” from proclaiming victory in the Syrian Civil War. Whether this proves to be a wise decision for Israel, remains to be seen.
Russia’s Syrian Foreign Policy: The Israeli’s Vantage Point
Russia intervened in Syria in 2015 at the request of Syrian President al-Assad. Russia has no particular affinity for al-Assad; rather it sees him as the only alternative to an Islamic fundamentalist state. Russia’s main objective is that the Middle East remains stable while Syria was heading towards anything but stability. There are two reasons why Russia entered the Syrian fray.
First, while the Caucasus region is not entirely in Russia proper, it is on its border and presents a “zone of vulnerability.” Given the recent history of US-sponsored “regime changes” in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus, Russia is on high alert. This is because many Muslim citizens of the Caucasus countries were joining extremist organizations to fill the power vacuums created by US “regime change” policy. This is the main reason why Russia came to the aid of al-Assad’s government in September 2015 in the Syrian Civil War. It did not want to see a chaotic “Libya outcome” in Syria or see Da’esh or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in Damascus.
The second reason is that Russia has a large Muslim population (estimated at 12-15 percent or 16 million to 20 million ethnic Muslims) that it also fears might become radicalized. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia deems Islamic radicalization as one of the most serious challenges to its national integrity and stability. A destabilized region will pose grave problems within Russia’s borders. Thus, it has created a strong partnership with Israel to coordinate these stabilizing efforts.
Russia and Israel share a common concern towards international terrorism spreading throughout the region. When Russia entered the Syrian Civil War, the Israeli government immediately contacted their Russian counterparts. It appreciated the concern Russia had towards the jihadist terrorist threat in Syria, but the intervention led to an equally alarm-ing concern for Israel. That is, Israel worried that this would increase Iran’s influence in Syria. This should not be interpreted as a cooling in Russo-Israeli relations. There has al-ways been dialogue between the two governments on all-levels. Given Russia’s intervention in Syria, both countries’ military and intelligence apparatuses are in contact in the Syrian arena to avoid unfortunate outcomes. Moreover, Israel relies on Russia to be the intermediary to resolve border issues. We saw this recently in Lebanon and Syria given Russia’s ever-expanding presence and many contacts in the region. However, the con-cerns in Israel regarding Iran in southern Syria still remain. For instance, Israel has made it clear that it is concerned with the recent agreement between the US and Russia for a “zone of de-escalation” in southern Syria. In the view of the Israeli establishment, this prevents Israel from reacting to security concerns in the area—namely, military activities by the “Iran-Hezbollah-Syria axis.” Nevertheless, given the US absence, Israel under-stands that it must balance between protecting its security and awareness that its activities could, as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned, lead to “a new round of dangerous consequences for the region.” In other words, Israel now understands that it cannot take a militant line in the Syrian arena.
From the Israeli Lens: America’s Policy in Syria
Israel was never entirely sure what to expect from the Americans throughout the Syrian Civil War. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both balked at intervening in the Syrian arena. However, like President Obama, President Trump does not have a com-plete grip on his administration and it is difficult to tell what the US foreign policy is in Syria.
Under President Obama, the CIA covertly armed opposition forces, many of which were jihadis (some even linked to al-Qaeda). To his credit, President Obama hesitated to enter the Syrian Civil War, knowing the dire implications of intervention. Unfortunately, his biggest flaw was that he was not in full control of his administration. As a result, powerful forces within the military, foreign affairs and intelligence communities decided to act independently of the President. For instance, President Obama and President Putin agreed to cooperate in Syria to destroy Da’esh and other terrorist organizations after a weeklong ceasefire (organized through their foreign ministries). However, only 48 hours prior to the implementation of full US-Russian cooperation in Syria, the Pentagon sabotaged the efforts made by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
While President Trump had ended the CIA program to covertly give weapons to ji-hadi forces, he too had his fair share of mistakes in the Syrian arena. While mentioning on numerous occasions during the 2016 US presidential election campaign that he wanted to cooperate with Russia in Syria, President Trump has been unable to fully implement his campaign promise due to anti-Russian sentiments in the American political class. As a result, due to his inexperience, he has had to deal with the same conundrum as President Obama. For instance, relying on very weak intelligence that Syrian President al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, President Trump authorized a launch of 59 tomahawk missiles on the Syrian Army’s outposts—raising tensions in Syria of a possible ‘hot war’ between the United States and Russia as well as forcing Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev to proclaim that US-Russian relations were “destroyed”. While the situation has settled down, the US retains a military presence in Syria, making it unclear what their foreign policy is for Syria. Is the US policy to destroy terror-ism in Syria (as President Obama professed at the UN Security Council and President Trump promised during his campaign) or is it, as it was at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, to remove al-Assad from power? Unfortunately, due to infighting in the US foreign policy establishment over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election, President Trump does not have a free hand in dictating foreign policy and this includes the Syrian arena. As a result, there is no clear answer.
The Israeli establishment views the ongoing conflict in US politics, as an internal mat-ter but was hopeful that the al-Assad regime would fall. Given that events seem to suggest that al-Assad will remain in power, Israel is acting according to its security concerns. Regardless of what happens (or who is in power) in Syria, Israel will observe its red lines accordingly with caution (given that Russia is the “new sheriff in town”). However, the internal US political struggle has convinced the Israeli establishment that the Americans are retreating from the Middle East. There has been no significant US military presence in the region for over a decade and the US has been coming less and less to Israel’s defense on the political scene. This has made it increasingly hard for the Israelis to rely on and seek political assistance from their American partners. Having said that, the Israeli establishment still considers the US its number-one ally. While some might consider US bipartisan support for Israel to be on the wane, the two countries share decades of deep ties in the political, economic, cultural, military, and intelligence spheres. In other words, they share the same values and it is highly unlikely that the Israelis and Americans will completely relinquish this relationship for the foreseeable future.
Russo-Israeli Relations: Détente or Full-Partnership?
To conclude, the question must be asked: can Israel and Russia find common ground? That answer is yes. Israel’s two major national security concerns converge with Russia’s. While the current Israeli government sees no interest in seriously negotiating for a two-state solution, Russia, like the Israeli Left, understands that a two-state solution is the most viable and practical answer to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This would address Israel’s existential national security concern and, by extension, significant-ly reduce its current security concern. If both parties (Israeli and Palestinian) are serious about negotiating, Moscow is more than willing to be that broker to resolve this matter—as we saw in 2016. In the Syrian arena, both the Russians and Israelis share the belief that the threat of international terrorism is not only a threat to the region but to the international community as a whole. Where the two countries’ national security concerns do not converge is on Iran, specifically the “Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah axis.” Nonetheless, here too we see cooperation. The two countries have found a way to communicate when their countries’ security concerns are at odds. Even so, they continue to cooperate on a military and intelligence level in the Syrian arena. There are big changes afoot in the global arena. Unlike the Cold War era, the United States is retreating from the region. Israel will have to rely more and more on Russia to resolve security issues. The ball is in the Israelis’ court to make that decision. Russia shows that it is willing to be Israel’s primary partner in the region; Israel must do the same.
First published in our partner RIAC
Why US not trustworthy ally for Turkey
Just weeks after failure of the ISIL terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, the United States announced that it is going to create a security belt from Erbil to Mediterranean Sea under the pretext of avoiding ISIL return.
To this end, Washington announced the US-led coalition is working with its Syrian militia allies to set up a new border force of 30,000 personnel, a move that has added to Turkish anger over US support for Kurdish-dominated forces in Syria.
More than 50 percent of the mentioned forces would be Syrian Kurd militia which Turkey says they are offshoot of PKK terrorist group and considers them a major threat to its security, while Washington considers them the most effective ally on the ground in Syria.
Supporting Kurdish separatist forces in Northern Syria, the US is after its own geopolitical goals in the country and the region which some of them are:
-To prolong the conflicts and crises in Syria in order to pave the way for breaking and disintegration of the country which can be a beginning of more breakings in the regional countries, while the US hypocritically defends territorial integrity of the Syria and other regional countries like Iraq.
-To boost its military presence in Syria by building military bases in order to decrease its dependence on Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
– Playing with Kurdish card, the US intends to pressure and contain Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
-To provide Security for Tel Aviv by destabilizing the security of the region.
-Dominating the energy rich region and the future energy routes.
Turkey began its military operation in Afrin to thwart some parts of the US organized plots against itself.
Facing obstacles on the way of its goals in the region due to cooperation between Russia and regional countries including Iran and Turkey, the US state secretary Rex Tillerson arrived in Turkey with new promises couple of days ago.
The regional countries should learn lessons from the past that the US is not a trustworthy ally and it is just following up its own geopolitical ambitions by empty promises and instrumental use from allies.
Turkish President in April 2017 in an interview with Aljazeera said, “With President Obama, we had a mutual agreement about the PKK – but Obama deceived us. I don’t believe the Trump administration will do the same.” But during Trump administration not only the US didn’t remove Turkey’s concerns but also intensified its support to the Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The only way to foil the US separatist plan in the region which is a direct threat to the all regional countries is close cooperation between Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria with the help of Russia. We have been witnessing the fruits of this cooperation over the past several months including in foiling Erbil independence referendum and creating de-escalation zones in Syria.
It is noteworthy that the US in line with Samuel Huntington’s advice is cooperating with some grade 2 regional powers like Saudi Arabia to confront and weaken regional grade 1 powers like Iran and Turkey.
First published in our partner Mehr News Agency
The war in the Golan Heights and in the Lebanon
The framework of the clash on the borders between Israel, the Lebanon and Syria is currently much more complicated than it appears.
Recently, namely in mid-January, a senior officer of the Israeli Defence Forces has publicly announced that Iran is organizing a peripheral command in the Lebanon, precisely in the Southern area – a region traditionally controlled by Hezbollah and now by most of the Lebanese regular army, which is traditionally funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The Lebanese Armed Forces are backed by the United States to the tune of over 1.5 billion dollars, but also by Saudi Arabia (3.5 billion US dollars), which operates also with funding for security, intelligence andterritorial police.
Iran will grant additional funds to the Lebanese forces with a view to creating a stable link between Iran and the Mediterranean coast, which is also one of the grand strategy targets of the Shiite leadership in the Syrian war.
This will certainly change the Saudi and US attitude towards the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The Iranian strategic goals are designed to avoid being conditioned by Hezbollah’s tactical interests.
Said interests are not only against Israel. The excess of Iranian efforts and resources for the Lebanon and the clash with the “Zionist entity” – as they call Israel – does not absorb all Iranian strategic goals.
Iran wants to gain hegemony in a region stretching from the Lebanese Mediterranean coast to the Shiite areas of Afghanistan.
Nevertheless Iran’s operations in Syria are designed to creating the conditions for a simultaneous dual attack on Israel, starting from the Golan Heights and the Litani area, with or even without the “Party of God”of the Lebanese Shiites.
Suffice they avoid the anti-Iranian actions within the Lebanese State.
Hence the air clash, which occurred in Syria and in Israel on February 10, resulted in the loss of an Israeli F-16C aircraft belonging to the 110th Squadron, which had taken off from the Ramat David base. It also led to the loss of an F-15I aircraft hit, but not destroyed, by Bashar al-Assad’s air defence and damaged some jets hit by the Syrian anti-aircraft, as well as an Israeli helicopter hit in the skies of the Shebaa Farms. Finally an Iranian-made attack drone was shot down.
Obviously the Israeli pilots had received the explicit order of avoiding any Russian jetsand the Israeli government is extremely careful not to hurt the feelings and undermine the strategic sensitivity of Russia, the new global leader in the Middle East.
Israel’s aircrafts were aSufaF-16I and aBaaz F-15I.
The air defences of Assad and the Syrian Arab Army have also the Russian long-range S-125 and S-200 systems available.
The S-125 (NATO reporting name SA-3 GOA) is an old design missile with a range of 25 kilometres which, when modified – as happened during the Balkan wars in the early 1990s – can hit aircraft capable of reaching very high speed at various altitudes.
Conversely, the S-200 (NATO reporting name SA-5 Gammon) is a long-range missile (200-350 kilometres), but both types of Russian surface-to-air missiles are semi-automatically driven. Currently most batteries are equipped with systems for Airborne Early Warning and Control Defence (AEW).
The speed of both surface-to-air systems is still considerable.
It is therefore evident that, since the Russian Intelligence Services control both the single launching batteries of surface-to-air missiles and all the e-control networks of the Syrian, South Turkish, Lebanese and North Israeli space, Russia has given the green light for actions against the Israeli aircrafts and helicopters.
Hence it has decided – or possibly accepted others’ decision – to hit the Jewish aircrafts.
What is Israel’s and the other regional and global players’ strategic rationale in Syria?
The shooting down of the Israeli aircraft is a factor not to be neglected both tactically and geopolitically.
Two aircrafts lost are certainly a problem, but not an unresolvable one.
This is an operational and strategic factor to be studied carefully, a probable game-changer in the whole Syrian-Lebanese system.
Based on an initial assessment of facts, Israel lost air superiority in the Lebanese-Syrian region just when the Russian Federation sold or transferred to Bashar al-Assad’Syria a system of S-400 surface-to-air missiles at the end of November 2015.
The S-400 Triumph (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler), with a maximum range of 400 kilometres, can launch its missiles at a speed of 4.8 kilometres per second and can detect up to 36 or even 80 targets simultaneously – hence it is hard to be saturated.
It is also a weapon system that has already been sold to China in 2014 and to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
Hence considering its full and unrestricted control over the Syrian airspace and Syria’s broad strategic region, evidently Russia has de factoendorsed the Israeli raids on targets located both in Syrian areas and in the Lebanon.
The Israeli raids are already significant.
Let us think about the Israeli air attack in early September 2017, with an operation in Masyaf, Western Syria – a mission carried out by Israel shortly after the United Nationshad accused Bashar al-Assad’s government of the chemical weapon attack on Khan Sheykhoun, which had taken place in April 2017.
At the time, both the Russians and the Syrians of Assad’s government had reassured the United Nations and the other players that no one had ever used forbidden weapons.
However, those who were poisoned and unable to breathe were still in hospitals, so as to demonstrate the opposite of what had officially been declared by the Syrian-Russian military connection.
The ease with which the Syrian allies put Russia in difficultiesvis-à-vis the West and the other global powers is a burden for it.
Hence what did Israel want and what does it want to demonstrate with these raids, the last of which was unsuccessful for “David’ slingshot”?
Firstly, it wants to make it clear to all regional players that the “red line” between the territory of the Jewish State and the territory of the Syrian-Lebanese State is still fully in force.
Secondly – but this is a strategically primary issue – Israel wants to show how dangerous it is for Iran to try and build its new forward bases in the border area between the Golan Heights and the Litani River in the Lebanon. Finally, Israel wants to ever more perfect its air attacks to avoid or postpone a ground attack.
The technologies for air attacks have already been largely developed.
As far as we know, they would be a mix of micro-intelligence on the ground and of new remotely-controlled, but high-precision weapons, as well as a new distribution of defence systems, built and deployed on the ground in such a way as to hit several thousand targets within one hour at most.
Certainly, in all likelihood, there is a new Iranian base south of Damascus.
A station mainly equipped with air forces, but fully managed and controlled by the Al Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, with the high probability of adding submarines in the coastal areas controlled by Hezbollah in the Lebanon.
Hence either a scenario of attack on Israel from a unified front in the North, between Syria, Golan and the Lebanese Litani area, or another even more dangerous scenario for Israel, in which the Jewish State would be attacked from the North and the South at the same time.
The first attack would take place according to the model already tested by Hezbollah in 2006, and also in 2004, but this time together with the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The second attack could take place when movements modelled on Hezbollah will be active and dangerous also in the Palestinian area east and south of Jerusalem, like the recently-established Al Sabiroun in the Gaza Strip.
Also the Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian organization founded in Gaza in 1979 from a previous network of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been based with its leaders in Damascus since 1988.
Currently, however, Iran’s funding is scarce for this Sunni organization that, since the very beginning, accepted and supported the 1979 Ayatollah Revolution, as also Yasser Arafat did.
It is always worth remembering it.
Indeed, there isclose continuity between the “secular” and Marxist Palestinian uprising, which is still very much liked by the EU finest spirits, and the “radical” jihadist and Islamist twist that,for the amateurs of Middle East politics, appears to be a novelty with respect to the para-Soviet model of Yasser Arafat’s PLO and its many internal groups.
Iran’s relations with HAMAS are rhapsodic, precisely considering the close link – strengthened from 2011 onwards – between this Palestinian military structure, which also originated from a cell of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia.
In all likelihood, however, the timing of the combined attack from the South will be connected to the development and military preparation of Al Sabiroon, which shall be at least equal to Hezbollah’s.
According to some sources, however, Iran has already long arranged as many as 70,000 missiles in Syria, all targeted or targetable to Israel.
The Al Quds Force has also already deployed 5,000 soldiers in the area around Damascus and about 50 kilometres from the border with Israel.
Then there are the Shiite military groups, who often approach the border with Israel and sometimes cross it.
Furthermore, in Syria, Iran arms and trains Shiite battalions from the various regions of that country, such as Al Baqr and the Battalion 313.
The latter Syrian Shiite unit reminds of the number of Muhammad’s fighters in the Battle of Al-Badr, but it is actually called “The Great Apostle’s Brigade”, while it is worth recalling that the number 313 also regards the esoteric eschatology connected to the final coming of the Mahdi, He who will put an end to the world.
According to our sources, the Brigade 313 is still in the region of Homs where jihadists still operate in its Southern area.
Currently, however, the number of brigades or battalions of Syrian-origin Shiite militants, all trained by the Pasdaran, is equal to five units, all located between Central and Southern Syria and all with autonomous commands, but actually directed by Iranian officials of the Al Quds Force.
The operations of camouflage and strategic deception of the many Iranian missiles were all directly authorized by Bashar al-Assad and conducted by Iran and Hezbollah with the active support of the Syrian Arab Army.
Again according to said sources, within a year from now, the number of small or large missiles is expected to reach over 500,000 (according to Iranian and Lebanese programmers).
A saturation of airspace that, according to Iran experts, is supposed to block the reactions of the Israeli’s space protection system.
During the Israeli State visit to Russia of January 29, 2018,Netanyahu officially asked Vladimir Putin to containIran’s anti-Israeli operations in Syria.
It is also very likely that the Israeli leader provided to Vladimir Putin also a good amount of intelligence on the Iranian threat to the Jewish State from within Syria.
Furthermore, the strategic divergence between Russia and Iran on the Syrian territory is already quite evident and essentially unresolvable, considering the current situation on the ground.
But certainly Russia has no interest in creating further tension with Israel.
Hence probably the Russian authorization for the Syrian (and possibly Iranian) anti-aircraft operations is the last act of a sequence of strategic signals between Russia and the United States on the Syrian issue.
In fact, while it is true that Iran is absolutely essential in Syria for the Russian Federation, with a view to avoidingRussia’s too heavy engagement in favour of Assad, certainly Russia does not want to create a political and strategic system in which Bashar al-Assad is subjected solely to Iran’s will.
Once finished the clashes on the ground, Russia will redesign the Syrian map, thus preventing the country from splitting – also implicitly and subtly – into various regions, all with a different padrinage.
Russia does not certainly want to guarantee to Iran a Shiite context going from Iraq to Syria, so as to arrive without interruption up to the Mediterranean coast.
Moreover Russia wants the strengthening and final success of the Astana talks – a decompression system of the Syrian conflict inevitably involving two other players besides Russia, namely Iran and Turkey.
Turkey against Iran, despite the recent good relations between the two countries sanctioned by the meeting held in early October 2017.
A visit which significantly took place while the Saudi leadership was paying an official visit to Russia.
Hence, from now on, the Russian Federation will play Turkey against Iran and viceversa, so as to avoid losing the role of main actor in Syria and, at least for the time being, in the rest of the Middle East.
Yet good relations between Russia and Israel are still needed.
Hence this is the reason why, on the one hand, Bashar al- Assad is ever less interested in supporting Iran’s post-war ambitions and he does not directly operate – at least for the time being – against the Turkish forces that entered Idlib.
This happens while Syria operates – now explicitly – in favour of the Kurds, traditionally fought by Turkey and currently de factoabandoned by the United States.
However, we have just been informed of a new agreement between the United States and the Kurdish leadership in Syria.
Besides Russia, Tukey and Syria have every interest in preventing the Kurds from changing the complex ethnic composition of the areas under their control – but here the only possible broker and mediator is the Russian Federation.
And this is also a primary Israeli strategic interest.
Moreover, all Syrian richest oil and water areas are now under the direct control of the Kurdish YPD, which will create further conditions for Russian mediation.
This happens while the United States is now ambiguously avoiding supporting the Kurds, whom it has armed and trained so far.
Moreover, currently the United States has problematic relations also with Turkey, which has never appreciated the US strategic double standard in Syria.
But today, after Putin’s phone call to Netanyahu on October 18, 2017- designed to avoiding military climax in Syria and particularly to protecting his forces, distributed throughout the Iranian and Hezbollah networks – we need to look at some other variables of this complex equation.
Israel’s operations could also hit the Russian base of Tiyas, i.e. the T4 near Palmira, the base from which the Iranian drone – copied from an old US drone lost by the Americans many years ago – is supposed to have left.
The base currently hosts four air squadrons.
In other words, Russia’s message to Israel is simply the following: dear Israeli friends, accept the new Russian hegemony over Syria and the Middle East and nothing will happen to you – neither by Irannor by others.
The Russian message, however, also entails as follows: Israel should stop putting the lives and operations of the Russian soldiers present in the region in severe danger.
It should also stop putting the Russian forces in difficulties in their relations with the Iranian and Syrian forces that could put Russia in trouble precisely because of its friendship with Israel.
Israel cannot do without the alliance with the Russian Federation, while Russia cannot forget the number and importance of the Russian Jews who emigrated to the Jewish State.
It cannot forget how close the Russian-Israeli cooperation is in the technological, military, intelligence and cultural sectors.
For Israel the Russian military presence in Syria represents two strategic variables: on the one hand, it avoids the clash in the Golan Heights – and also in Lebanon, considering the tested system of terrestrial passage into Syria between Iran and the Lebanon -being massively targeted to Israel, that is not at all a Russian enemy.
On the other hand, the Russian military presence in Syria prevents the Jewish State from striking – surgically or not – the Iranian and Hezbollah forces operating on the ground.
Furthermore, Russia knows all too well that – by reaction – the operations in Syria have created a strong Sunni alliance, signed early June last with the exclusion of Qatar.
Israel hasnow excellent, but confidential relations with the new Sunni political universe.
Finally Russia has no intention of breaking all ties with the world dominated by Saudi Arabia and by the other Gulf powers because of their alliance with Iran in Syria.
Too much business is already underway, but above all what is at stake is Russia’ strategic wisdom in proposing itself as a global broker and mediator for the Middle East region, without ever forgetting anyone.
Moreover, the Russian Federation is well aware that, without Hezbollah’s and Iran’ support, it could certainly not have afforded a solitary war against ISIS and its allies in Syria – terrorists and Caliphate’s jihadists also backed by many Western powers and their Middle East points of reference, as Putin correctly stated in October 2015.
Thanks to its new dominance in Syria, the Russian Federation also wants to achieve a project of strong relations with the United States, thus re-establishing a new “strategic parity” with it.
It is precisely through the war in Syria that Russia wants to get out of its old post-1989 role of “regional power” in order to be once again a global player.
But how can it reach this goal without Israel’s regional support?
It is worth recalling, however, that Iran is absolutely necessary for the Russian Federation both for the creation of the Eurasian bloc – the future central axis of Putin’s geopolitics – and also for the essential oil connection between Russia and Iran.
Last August there were also secret contacts between Israel, Russia and the United States in Amman.
Jordan and the Jewish State pointed out – especially to Russia – that the “de-escalation zones”,envisaged in the Astana agreements and later reaffirmed by the Geneva Peace Conference, had apositioning that would enable the Iranian and Hezbollah forces to attack the Israeli positions, and obviously the Jordanian ones, more easily.
It is worth recalling that the “de-escalation zones” in Syria are the following : 1) the Idlib province, as well as the Northeastern areas of Latakia province, Western areas of Aleppo and Northern areas of Hama; 2) the Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in Northern Homsprovince; 3) Eastern Ghouta in the Northern Damascus countryside; 4) the rebel-controlled South along the border with Jordan that includes parts of Deraa and Quneitra provinces.
Again in that secret meeting Jordan and Israeli added that it would be preferable for them to have Russia’s direct control over the border between Syria and Jordan.
Russia and the United States – this time united – only wanted to reach, as soon as possible, an agreement on the cease-fire in Southern Syria, unavoidable to successfully attack the areas still held by Daesh-Isis.
This was the strategic sense of the Amman meeting.
At that time Israel also asked – but only to the Russian Federation – to create an area of at least 20 kilometres away from the Israeli border with Syria completely devoid of Iranian or Hezbollah positions.
There was also the possibility that Israel would ask Russia and the United States to expel all Iran’s and its allies’ forces from Syria.
Obviously this is inconceivable. Neither of the two major global players, namely Russia and the United States, is interested in expelling Iran from Syria.
Russia cannot do without it, as we have already seen.
The United States, however, has no intention of being directly involved in the Syrian chaos, with many boots on the ground, since it rather prefers a military and geopolitical balance between its various client groups.
Furthermore, the visit paid by the Russian Defence Minister, Shoigu,to Israel in mid-October 2017 has not solved the primary issue, i.e. the excessive presence of Iranian weapons and soldiers – or connected to Iran – near the Golan Heights border.
In fact, Israel saw the emergence of ISIS in Syria as an excellent opportunity to overthrow Bashar al-Assad – an enemy if considered on his own and also Iran’s loyal supporter.
Netanyahu, however, reiterated to Minister Shoigu the concept we have already mentioned, i.e. that the de-escalation zones do not guarantee at all the absence of Shiite militias on the Syrian-Israeli border.
Probably they favour their transfer to the Golan Heights and to the Lebanon.
A possible solution is that, after destroying the last Isis-Daesh pockets of resistance, Russia is really ending its operations in Syria.
This will soon imply also the withdrawal of Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the other Shiite militias.
A return back home that, according to our sources, will be controlled by the Russian Federation and by other regional and global players – none of them particularly interested in favouring Iran.
Hence if Israel persuades the Russian Federation to carry out a parallel credibleand geographically verifiable withdrawal from Syria – also of the Iranian and pro-Iranian forces – the tension on borders, but also the line of direct connection between Iran and the Lebanon could be interrupted or damaged.
But certainly the Jewish State cannot fail to keep on monitoring its borders carefully. It will check with other actions, but not necessarily with the air force, Russia’s willingness to defend Iranian positions to the bitter end.
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