What the Trump-Putin Summit Means for Syria (Pt 1/2)
New talk of US, Russian, and Israeli cooperation likely means a return to the status quo with the Assad regime in power, as Washington and Tel Aviv double down on targeting Iran and its proxies, says As’ad AbuKhalil
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Mate. After his joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump sat down with Sean Hannity of Fox News and Trump said that he and Putin had reached agreement on Israel.
DONALD TRUMP: And at the end of this meeting I think we really came to a lot of good conclusions, a really good conclusion for Israel. Something very strong. He’s a, he’s a believer in Israel. He’s a fan of Bibi and really helping him a lot and will help him a lot which is good for all of us.
AARON MATE: A key focus of the U.S., Russia and Israel is Syria, where all are militarily involved. The U.S. and Israel want Russia’s help in confronting Iran. And on that front, Israel has been extremely aggressive. The Wall Street Journal reports that Israeli bombings of Iranian targets have gone deep into Syria, along its border with Iraq. And all this comes with key U.S. support. Just today in Washington, the House Subcommittee on National Security is holding a hearing to discuss recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied illegally since 1967.
As’ad Abukhalil is a professor of political science at California State University whose blog is the Angry Arab News Service. Professor Abukhalil, welcome. Your thoughts on the Syria/Iran angle of this Trump/Putin summit? We don’t know exactly what was discussed because they met privately and we haven’t seen much detail, but we heard there in that clip, Trump speaking of Putin as being a friend of Israel and of being of assistance in Syria.
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, there’s no doubt that Putin is a strong ally of the state of Israel. And I have always been critical of the way the so-called resistance camp in the Middle East has been deceived, I think, by the intentions of the Russian government in Syria. I think their role in Syria has more to do with Russian calculations in the world vis-a-vis the United States and Europe, and much less to do with the calculations of their allies, their temporary allies, in Syria and beyond in the Middle East region. What Trump said in the interview yesterday confirmed what we already know, that Putin is a very close ally of the state of Israel. And in fact, Netanyahu today is capitalizing on this advantageous sponsorship and support he receives from both Trump and Putin in order to increase the stance or posture of Israel in the Middle East region.
Having said all of that, I think we do not know the details of what was agreed upon. Also, who is to say that what Russia and America agree on regarding people in the region necessarily will be translated? The life span of the peace process is as close to my own lifetime. But I should say this, also, that all the leaks we see in U.S. media, in the Wall Street Journal or the Haaretz and so on, these are all Mossad propaganda leaks. They are intended to put Israel in a much better light. I mean, I saw this recent Wall Street Journal article which coincided a day after simultaneous propaganda leaks in The Washington Post and The New York Times, basically bragging about the Mossad successes in basically capturing old obsolete documents from some archives in a warehouse in Iran. That’s their story.
But of course, I cast doubt on it. That just as we first heard about this great propaganda Mossad operation in which they were able to take the wristwatch or maybe the shoe also next week of, I mean the Israeli spy, Eli Cohen, and yet we later learned that it was purchased through an auction, regular commercial auctions. So, one should be very skeptical about what they say. Having said all that, it is true that Israel is very heavily involved in the Syrian war. One of the ironies of watching the lousy American media coverage from liberal, from some of the left, even all the way to the right-wing, is that they parrot the same cliche, how Israel has been uninvolved in the Syrian War, as if it’s a bystander.
And in fact, in reality, Israel has been heavily involved from the very start, and I would argue even before the start of the war in Syria, as it has always been. There has never been a conflict in the Middle East in contemporary times since the creation of the state of Israel in which the Israeli occupation state has not been heavily involved. They’re always on the worst side of the conflict. I mean, if there are two bad sides, Israel will always be on the worst side among them, just as the United States is. So, I mean, the story that we read is about how they are striking at some sites, some Iranians. The recent one belongs to Hezbollah of Iraq, not to be confused with Hezbollah of Lebanon, very different organizations, and they wanted to impede the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But, how many strikes do they need?
So, what does that mean, these strikes? In the last strike, they bragged that they killed twenty soldiers for Hezbollah of Iraq. So, what is that going to mean to the strategic posture of Hezbollah? So, they used their strategic missiles from a hundred thirty thousand, two hundred and twenty nine thousand and seven hundred, maybe, I don’t know. I mean, it’s more typical Mossad propaganda bragging than it is of anything that is going to be meaningful on the ground in Syria. Also, we have also seen that Russia is not able to impose entirely its will on the ground in Syria, its wishes. There has been more criticism of statements by the Russian government as of late from Iranian media and from Hezbollah media and so on. They clearly do not see eye to eye and they don’t have the same vision of the future.
For that reason, I remain skeptical about what Putin and Trump and their beloved Netanyahu are going to be able to achieve in Syria. But the Syrian regime, I think, most likely will be interested in returning to the status quo prior to the war, which has been totally advantageous to the occupation state of Israel, in which it has retained and kept its occupation of the Golan Heights. And now there is a move to legitimize it in the international fora, and I’m sure that Trump is going to go along with that and both houses of Congress will agree and both parties.
AARON MATE: Okay, so two things. One, a very minor point but I want to raise it. When you said that- and this is not the topic of this interview, but I just want to bring it up because I think it’s interesting. When you said that the U.S. always finds itself on the worst side, no matter who it is, I mean can we say there are exceptions, like for example when the U.S. supported the Kurds against ISIS? And I’m sure you agree that that was a time of the U.S. being on the right side.
But also, more importantly for the purposes of this interview, is it safe to say then, that if Israel is happy with the status quo, with the Assad government in power, has that always been its role in the Syrian war, just basically maintaining the status quo while still providing support tacitly and directly to the rebels, basically keeping the conflict going but not taking action enough to tip the conflict in total favor of the rebels or overthrow Assad?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: No, I mean regarding Israeli preferences for always worse sides. I mean, the point stands as far as the Americans are concerned. Let us not forget, the United States, over the years in the past at some point, supported the Syrian regime, supported the role in Lebanon. And also, I should remind you that in the war in Syria, the United States has been quite supportive directly or indirectly through its clients in the Gulf region of the worst groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria. I mean, the recent book by Ben Rhodes, foreign policy adviser to Obama, he in fact admitted that he argued in favor of al-Qaeda in Syria, known as Al-Nusra Font at some point, and that he was lobbying within the White House against the categorization of that organization as a terrorist organization.
I mean, imagine. There was a champion in the White House and in the Oval Office for al-Qaeda, the same group that was behind September 11. If only the relatives and the families of September 11 victims would know about that. As far as America supporting the Kurds versus ISIS, I mean, yes. But that was not the entire conflict. This was an element or a dimension of the conflict for which United States supported that side. I mean, that can also be true in terms of during the civil war in Lebanon. Sometimes it will be two lousy gangs and maybe the U.S. and Israel would support the gang that is as bad as the other, one or maybe slightly less bad. I mean, we can argue these points but in general, I think my point holds, that America always supports, and Israel, worst sides to the conflict.
On the second point, regarding the preferences of Israel in the Syrian conflict, the Zionist establishment in America and in Israel has not been in agreement about their options and their preferences in Syria. I mean, there was one view which basically regards the Syrian regime as being not harmful to the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. I mean, let’s us face it. There was no plan by the Syrian regime to liberate the Golan Heights. There has not been guns fired since 1974, and the Syrian regime prevented the resistance group, Syrian or otherwise, Palestinian or otherwise, from trying to initiate a resistance movement in the Golan Heights. So, that is clear.
However, I think there were also elements- and of course, I should remind you that the cousin of Bashar al-Assad, right after the outbreak of uprising in Syria, spoke to The New York Times, in which he made that point, that the Syrian regime can be a guaranteer of security on the border with Israel. But there is also another view, which basically wanted to destabilize Syria for the foreseeable future because that would also be advantageous in order to drag and distract Hezbollah, its main chief enemy which really poses a real threat to the Israeli occupation, aggression in Lebanon and beyond. And I think the second view prevailed for the last several years.
They were really interested in weakening. They were hoping that a war of attrition would be able to exhaust Hezbollah and weaken it to a large degree and that they would utilize all their weapons and that it would wind up to be less militarily important than they were. That didn’t work. I mean, for all intents and purposes, Hezbollah now is packing its bags, and to a large degree they are either planning, already have begun their return to Lebanon.
AARON MATE: All right. We’ll take a break there and come back in part two. My guest is As’ad Abukhalil. He is a professor of political science at California State University. His blog is the Angry Arab News Service. I’m Aaron Mate with The Real News.