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Former Mossad chief: Where is Putin leading Syria and the Middle East?

September 21, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy has said that in view of “the expanding dialogue between the US and Russia” Israel should not be neutral spectator that simply watches world powers act in the Middle East.

In an opinion article published in Yedioth Ahronoth, Halevy commented on a recent meeting held between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He wrote that Putin would “want to understand Israel’s expectations” and its stance on Russia’s support of Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria. He stressed that Washington should keep a close eye on developments and not forget the importance of “maintaining Israel’s qualitative advantage in every situation” and questioned whether Netanyahu would be capable of positioning Israel “as an active and strong player whose strategic needs must be taken into account, especially in regards to Iran?”

Commenting further on US-Israeli relations, Halevy noted that the alliance between the two powers “goes two ways, and when… [Israel’s] strategic needs are discussed in the White House during the Obama-Netanyahu meeting in November, there must be no doubt regarding Israel’s commitment to its ally. When it comes to Syria, it will be important that the US takes care of Israel, just like Russia is taking care of Iran.”

He went on, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow on Monday will be held against the backdrop of a significant increase in the Russian military presence in Syria.”

“The Russian move is aimed at saving the Bashar Al-Assad regime from collapse – Russia appears to be the only world power supporting the Syrian president’s survival unconditionally – although it is still unclear how it plans to achieve this goal. Through extensive guidance of new recruits in the dwindling ranks of the Syrian army? By arming the Iranian army and Hezbollah units with upgraded weapons? Where is President Vladimir Putin leading the Middle East?” he asked.

The Israeli intelligence expert added that Netanyahu will stress to Putin that Israel insists on not allowing Iran and Hezbollah to have any activity in the Golan Heights and he will raise the question of why Russia continues to support these proxies despite the fact that its support for Assad has not borne fruit on the ground.

Halevy said that the real reason behind the Russian manoeuvre is to prompt the US to engage in negotiations with the Syrian regime, which was actually proposed by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday.

“Putin’s handling of external crises indicates that he makes plans step by step, while maintaining options for quick changes in direction dictated by unexpected events on the ground,” Halevey wrote.

“In 2013, when the Syrians began using chemical weapons in the civil war, US President Barack Obama was required to honour his commitment that he would view this as a ‘red line’ being crossed. While calculating his steps, Putin published an article in the New York Times, in which he ruled that the crime had been committed by opposition elements. He also added that there was information that they would use this weapon against Israel in the future.”

He also noted Obama’s deployment of “strategic weapons” with the aim of raiding the chemical weapon arsenal, remarking that “within a short period of time Putin changed his mind and initiated together with Obama a move of removing the weapons from Assad, under international supervision. In the meantime, the threat to Israel – which turned out to be a ill-informed move – was forgotten.”