Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow and Russia’s role in Syria, some thoughts.

Russia’s parade on may 9th celebrated the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. It is a very meaningful parade centering around perhaps the most formative events behind the industrial and military power and outlook of the Soviet Union and Russia. Just two guest leaders attended; the President of Serbia and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

There are good reasons for Russia to invite the PM of Israel, the latter country is and was home to a great many veterans of and great sympathy for the Red Army and Israel pays homage to these. Plus, Israel on the whole views Russia differently from most western countries. Russia helped defeat the greatest menace to the Jewish people and saw the need for the Jewish people to have their own state plus saw Israel as a natural secular, left-wing and anti-imperial (anti-British empire) ally at a time when socialism was a strong force in Israel and Zionism. Now that these sentiments have turned nationalist, both see themselves as defending their own people and nations against enemies seeking to surround them. No matter the reality of the perceived threat of western encroachment on Russia or Arab encroachment on Israel, the narratives create a similar military posture and need to define and defend strategic interests aggressively. But also a common understanding of the world that isn’t held in the west. Russia and Israel are long time and usually, natural allies. That Israel also has solid relations with the west makes this relationship all the more vital.

Which leads us to the bombing of Syria by the Israelis in response to a rather poorly carried out Iranian missile attack on Israel from Syrian soil which took place just 75 minutes after Netanyahu had returned from Moscow. That makes one think that the Russians knew about and signed off on the Israelis to seriously degrade the Iranian capabilities in Syria. All the Israelis needed was a pretext which was given to them just 75 minutes after Netanyahu returned. That sounds coordinated, almost as if Netanyahu himself caused the Iranian commanders in the field to fire those missiles and thereby create a pretext. Given the accuracy of the attacks and scale of destruction, that train of thought has merit; what if the Israelis have infiltrated the Syrian or Iranian security establishment to the point where they can track the location of important Iranian assets? This isn’t an outlandish theory, at one time during the 1960s, an Israeli spy, Eli Cohen, became chief adviser to the Syrian minister of defense.  What if Israel has so infiltrated Iranian command and control facilities that it can cause the kind of strike sufficient for a retaliatory response? Because there’s really no reason that Iran should have attacked in that manner at that time and it seems unlikely that the order to attack came from Tehran.

In this scenario, Israel, Russia and the US (withdrawing from the Iran agreement) may agree that the Iranian adventure has gone too far and that with Syria stabilizing, it’s time to put the pressure on to reduce Iran’s influence. That does make sense, Iran has become a significant force in the Middle East and effectively controls Lebanon and Iraq and has a great and growing influence over Syria, Yemen and Gaza. It ultimately is not in the Russian interest to see Israel and Iran face off. So when Netanyahu visits Moscow and so overtly celebrates Russia’s military might with Putin, that message isn’t lost on Tehran. Especially not when that message is so blatantly confirmed hours later with a response that messages a clear willingness and ability to and Russian cover to politically and militarily confront Iran and degrade its assets. With political discontent in Iran about foreign adventurism only growing, now is not the time for Iran to seek a widening of the war.