Netanyahu Meets Putin Looking for Existential Threat to Israel

Shir Hever says Netanyahu made misleading statements after his trip to Russia about coordinated military action in Syria

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just outside of Moscow on Monday to discuss how to avoid friendly fire between their troops in the airspace. Russians are providing arms, troops for training to Syrian military of President Bashar al-Assad, which include war planes, anti-aircraft systems, and now about 2,000 ground troops according to official sources. This is worrying regional partners and of course the U.S., as Israeli jets have on occasion bombed neighboring Arab countries to foil suspected handover of advanced arms to Assad’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, who successfully fought back Israel military in 2006 during the Israel-Hezbollah war.

Now joining me to discuss these developments is Shir Hever. Shir is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour. Shir, good to have you with us again.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

PERIES: So Shir, let’s begin with the visit of Benjamin Netanyahu to Russia, and what was discussed.

HEVER: Yeah. Well, I think it’s clear that the one who scored points from this visit was not Netanyahu but actually Putin. Netanyahu is in a sort of corner; he’s been placed in the corner because Israel has in the last few years attacked, bombed targets within Syria. And did this with a sort of blind eye turned by the international community and especially by the United States. And these attacks have been made mainly for internal Israeli reasons, for domestic, political reasons which were very important for Netanyahu himself, but not so much for overall Israeli security. Now it’s going to be a lot harder for Israel to do so. And Netanyahu met with Putin, and he presented the reason for him going to Russia to meet with Putin as if he was going to coordinate military operations between Israel and Russia.

That is the view that a lot of newspapers have adopted. But this is purely the view that was presented by Netanyahu himself, and not–when you look at the statement that was released by Putin, you get a somewhat different picture. Because Putin himself sort of dismissed Netanyahu with a very short, non-committed statement about not seeking any kind of misunderstandings and understanding Israel’s position. But he basically rebuffed Netanyahu’s main argument, as if Iran is going to build a military front against Israel on Syrian soil, and said no, this is not going to happen. So when Netanyahu then came back interpreting this statement, to say from now on Israel will coordinate its operations in Syria with Russia, I was a bit disappointed to see that in Al Jazeera this statement by Netanyahu was just taken at face value. That they’re following into this very simple deception by Netanyahu. It’s obviously not the result of these discussions.

And what’s also very interesting is that one day after meeting with Netanyahu, Putin invited both Mahmoud Abbas and Tayyip Erodgan, so the president of the Palestinian government in Ramallah and the president of Turkey. Both of them are not good friends of each other, but they are certainly political enemies of Netanyahu. And walked with them in the streets of Moscow, for a ceremony to inaugurate a new main mosque that was built in Moscow. So for Putin this sort of photo op, first with Netanyahu then with his political rivals, places him as a sort of world, dominant political figure. But for Netanyahu this is not such an important [inaud.].

PERIES: Now, isn’t it actually a good thing that they are talking? Because the situation now, with the Russians sending ground troops and this kind of support to Assad has the potential of escalating to levels that are not good for the region.

HEVER: Yeah. That is, that is of course true. And it seems that for all of their regional powers that are interested in what is unfolding in Syria, whether it’s Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whether it’s Russia, or whether it’s the United States, and of course Israel and Iran as well, the only tool in their toolbox seems to be weaponry and military intervention. And that’s, for the past four years now, has not served to reduce the levels of violence, has not allowed the people of Syria any chance of living a normal life.

So that problem, that crisis is continuing to unfold. And I don’t think that Russian troops is what’s going to resolve it. Certainly not. But I think the Russian troops are in a way crowding out the ability of the Israeli army to act at will within Syria, because the Israeli government has many reasons to attack in Syria. Mainly these are reasons that have to do with the prestige of the Israeli military industry. We have to remember, in one of the recent attacks against Syria Israel bombed a weapon facility. They did not take responsibility for the attack. They did not admit that it was an Israeli attack. But they published the names of the weapons, the names of the missiles that were used. And those were missiles of Israeli manufacture. So they were trying to get a free advertisement for their weaponry without taking responsibility for firing them.

This is something that tells us a lot about the Israeli interests in Syria. If the additional bombardments will run the risk of hitting Russian operatives in Syria, that would be very dangerous for Israel’s position. So I think that restricts the Israeli freedom of movement in the region. And that at least is a positive thing, because we’re hoping that the Israeli government itself will also find other tools in its toolkit, not just weaponry and attacks.

PERIES: Now, Shir, isn’t it in the interest of Israel at this time to help the Russian strategy and support Assad in fighting the ISIS in Syria? Because this is the greatest danger in the region, obviously.

HEVER: Well, I think if indeed the Israeli government were consistent in seeing the Islamic State as the main threat in the region they would probably have acted accordingly. But I think they should be judged by their actions, not by their statements. And their actions are much more confusing, because when we look at the Israeli strategy in the area we see that, first of all, Israel has a lot of interest in a stable Assad regime, just because in the many decades of both Assad–Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad. When they, these two were ruling Syria, they kept–they kept the border with Israel very stable. That was something that was very much in Israel’s interest. They had stuck to the letter of the agreement they had with Israel even though those were not friendly agreements. But if they signed the ceasefire, they did not violate it. That much cannot be said of the Israeli army, unfortunately.

But now with the rebellion in Syria, this creates a vacuum. This reduces, actually, the threat of conventional warfare on Israel’s borders. And that in a very ironic twist of fate is something that is actually causing concern in Israel. Because actually the Israeli Ministry of Defense is clamoring for budgets. And they’re very much concerned that they cannot use this threat on the northern front to convince the Israeli public to shoulder a very heavy defense budget.

And one of the statements that Putin made in his meeting with Netanyahu was, when he said, the Syrian army is in no position to start a new front against Israel. This is something that I believe Putin did not say by mistake. He calculated that statement to correspond with the very heated debate in the Israeli media happening right now, that in fact Israel has no hostile borders anymore. In fact, with all this talk about threats and the Islamic State and so on, all of Israel’s borders are relatively secure. And the greatest threats, or the greatest military confrontations in Israel’s, that could potentially affect Israel, are with small guerrilla forces like Hamas which are no match for the Israeli military.

So actually the Israeli government is actually–is looking for some more threats. That’s the ironic part of it. And as part of that they have given some kind of clandestine assistance to Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, which are among the rebel groups and loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda within Syria. And that–but of course this has been done very clandestine. We don’t have all the facts on that. We don’t know how much assistance was given. We do know that there are Syrians living under Israeli rule in the occupied part of Syria that Israel controls, and they are furious to hear that Israel is giving assistance to the rebels. And to those very same groups which are fighting actually on the side of the Islamic State.

So the picture is a lot more complicated. And I think actually Phyllis Bennis, who was on the Real News, said this very well when she said that the regional powers are trying to fight the civil war in Syria to the last Syrian. Meaning that they don’t want any of the sides to become powerful enough to stabilize the country.

PERIES: Shir Hever, thank you so much for joining us today.

HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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