Column One: Trading horses with Putin
(Reprinted from the Jerusalem Post)
By Caroline Glick
This week US President Barack Obama informed Jewish leaders that he plans to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on November 9.
After 42 Democratic senators spent September 11 blocking their Senate colleagues from voting on Obama’s nuclear deal with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the time has come to stop trying to influence the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran specifically and toward the Middle East in general. It’s a sucker’s game.
Obama’s supporters like to argue that the administration’s rupture with Israel over the Iran deal is nothing more than a difference of opinion about how best to deal with a problem that both sides wish to solve. But this is not the case.
On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius hailed Obama’s “enormous victory” on the Iran nuclear deal. To be sure, Obama’s victory was not against Iran. It was against Netanyahu.
Based on an interview he conducted with Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, Ignatius wrote, “A weak president Obama may be. But a paradox of his presidency is that he has been at his toughest in fighting for the Iran nuclear deal against Netanyahu, the leader of one of America’s closest allies.”
Through Ignatius, Rhodes basked in the president’s great victory over Israel, a victory he views as Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement.
The takeaway lesson is obvious. Obama never intended to stop Iran from going nuclear. The goal of his nuclear diplomacy with the mullahs was to beat Israel. And there you have it. The Democrats protected him and he beat us. So mazal tov to him.
Now that this is out in the open, clearly we have no reason to get excited about his decision to meet with Netanyahu. Certainly there is no point in making any concessions to Obama ahead of the visit in order to increase its chances of success.
And this is the heart of the matter.
Israel isn’t all powerful. We’re a small country with significant but limited resources and capabilities.
The region we live in is deeply chaotic and steeped in crises. Our great challenge is to pick our fights carefully.
We cannot afford to get sucked into adventures – like appeasing Obama – where the likely return on our investment is minuscule.
Today Israel has only two threats that it really needs to worry about: the Iranian threat and the Palestinian threat to Jerusalem.
Iran threatens Israel in three ways. The greatest threat it poses of course is its nuclear threat. With Obama’s declaration of victory over Israel the time for diplomacy ended. Israel needs to focus its efforts on the one path still open to us.
The government needs to devote its energies to developing the means to physically destroy Iran’s nuclear program. To this end, Netanyahu’s meeting next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin will be much more consequential than his meeting with Obama in November.
No, Israel cannot entertain fantasies about a possible alliance with Russia. That won’t happen. But at the same time, we need to recognize that Russia is not the Soviet Union. Yes, Russia has superpower aspirations, which include projecting its power in the Middle East. But unlike the Soviet Union, Russia’s actions are not informed by an overarching world view that is inherently anti-Semitic.
In other words, it may be possible to do business with Putin.
Along these lines, we need to recognize that Putin’s decision to deploy forces in Syria is not necessarily a hostile act. What it is first of all is proof that Assad’s regime is lost. And this is a good thing because a weak, disintegrating Syria is bad for Iran.
The second way Iran threatens Israel is through its regional power projection. Up until the war began in Syria five years ago, Syria was Iran’s ace in the hole.
Through its Syrian protectorate, Iran controlled a border with Israel and with Hezbollah. Ever since the war began, Iran has been forced to spend $6 billion-$16b. every year in the hope of saving Assad.
The Russian deployment around Latakia is proof that Iran has been defeated.
During the 2006 war with Hezbollah, Russia shared intelligence and other assets with the Iranian proxy.
But unlike the Soviets in previous wars, the Russians didn’t actively interfere with Israel’s military operations. Today, after five years of failure in Syria, Hezbollah and Iran are weaker than they were in 2006. So it is hard to see why Russia would do more to help them in their war against Israel today than it did back then.
Whatever the state of Moscow’s relations with the Iranians and Hezbollah, today Israel has the ability to influence Russia’s actions.
One of the ways Israel can penetrate Russia’s decision loop is by offering to help it fight anti-Russian jihadists operating out of Syria. One of Islamic State’s senior commanders in Syria is Tarkhan Batirashvili, a former Georgian special forces commander trained by the US. According to McClatchy, Batirashvili fought against the Russians in both South Ossetia and in Chechnya. In 2012 he traveled to Turkey where he joined other jihadists in founding IS. Today, Chechens form one of the largest groups of foreign fighters in Islamic State.
Iran and Hezbollah have no credibility in fighting them.
Although Assad and his Iranian sponsors like to talk about their total war against Islamic State, they have played a key role in enabling the psychotic jihadist movement to take and maintain control over so much territory. They have done so mainly by fighting a phony war against IS that has kept others from taking more concerted action against the terrorist army.
Iran’s phony war and effective protection of IS is of a piece with its long record of colluding with Sunni jihadists.
Since early 2002, Iran has served as a major command post for al-Qaida. Much of al-Qaida’s leadership in Afghanistan fled to Iran as US forces overthrew the Taliban regime. Since their entry into the country, Iran has claimed that these senior al-Qaida commanders were “being detained” or “under arrest.”
Amazingly while “under detention,” from 2004 through 2011, members of the group managed to organize al-Qaida in Iraq and command both its and the Shiite insurgencies against US forces in the country. In 2012, al-Qaida in Iraq morphed into IS.
This week it was reported that Iran has “swapped” five senior al-Qaida leaders for an Iranian diplomat that al-Qaida held in Yemen. In short order these terrorist chiefs will be permitted to leave Iran. According to the terms of their “release,” the five agreed not to attack Assad’s regime, but rather focus their efforts on Western targets.
Most media reports have portrayed Putin’s decision to deploy forces to Syria as proof of his commitment to maintaining Assad’s hold on power. But the truth is much more straightforward. Putin is deploying forces to Syria because he thinks he has an opportunity to rebuild Russia’s strategic projection in the Middle East through Syrian bases. And he is right.
The Russians will no doubt be happy to destroy Chechen terrorists a cool 3,500km from Moscow. And here Israel would be a much better partner for Russia than IS’s Iranian and Syrian enablers.
If Russia is interested in Israel’s help, we can leverage our assistance as a means of exacting a Russian pledge not to interfere in Israeli operations against Hezbollah.
As to Iran, the fact that Russia has long assisted Iran’s nuclear program is not proof that Putin believes a nuclear-armed Iran is good for Russia. Russia’s involvement has been far more mercenary than strategic. Selling Iran nuclear reactors is simply good business as far as Putin is concerned.
Israel may be able to make him a better offer.
Chances of success will be much greater if the government manages to get Israel’s gas out of the sea.
Iran’s decision to set loose al-Qaida commanders is yet further proof of Iran’s ill intentions toward the US and Europe. Israel can leverage its capacity to track and fight terrorists in order to advance its interests in Europe.
This brings us to the Palestinian threat. Israel can offer its services in foiling terrorist plots in Europe in exchange for an end to European financing of anti-Israel activist groups.
Israel has an acute need today to weaken the BDS movement and decrease Western pressure regarding the Palestinians, because currently the Palestinians are using the West’s support for them to endanger Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Alexander Levlovitz’s murder by rock-throwing terrorists in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood over Rosh Hashana was the result of a multi-dimensional campaign directed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to destroy Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
This campaign is the second major threat that Israel needs to contend with today.
To date, rather than confront this Palestinian campaign with a similarly multidimensional counteroffensive under Netanyahu’s direct command, Israel has sufficed with one-dimensional responses that on their own can have little impact on the Palestinian campaign. The government’s so far stymied plan to mandate long prison sentences for rock throwers is one such limited and ultimately fruitless response.
Rock throwing is among the last components of the Palestinian campaign against Jerusalem. More significant aspects of the Palestinian operation against Israel’s capital include Abbas’s massive campaign of incitement, and the PA ’s organization, training, funding and deployment of forces tasked with functions relevant to the goal of undermining Israeli control of Jerusalem. The just-outlawed women’s brigade on the Temple Mount charged with assaulting Jewish visitors is a component of this task force.
Just as a decade ago then-prime minister Ariel Sharon raised a unique task force comprised of the military, police, and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) along with representatives of relevant government ministries to plan and execute the expulsion of the Jews of Gaza, so today, Netanyahu must raise a dedicated task force whose sole purpose is to dismantle and defeat the Palestinian campaign against the capital.
Israel can handle Jordanian snubs and threats.
It can survive a UN decision to let “Palestine” fly its flag next to Pakistan’s. Israel can diminish its engagement with Obama. It can contain the threats from IS in Sinai and Hamas in Gaza.
But Israel cannot stand idly by in the face of the rising threat from Iran. And it cannot take the Palestinians’ assault on its sovereignty over Jerusalem lying down.
We are not all powerful. And who knows, maybe Putin won’t want to trade horses with us. But with or without him, we are capable of preventing Iran from going nuclear, as we must, to ensure our survival.
And we can defeat the Palestinians and protect Jerusalem, as we must, to ensure our survival. Now is the time to avoid low-return investments and concentrate our efforts where they are most important and where we have the most to gain.
Caroline Glick is an author and Jerusalem Post columnist