More information has emerged from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Putin last week. The two met in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi on August 23rd to discuss recent developments in Syria. According to new shocking reports in both Arab and Israeli media, a senior Israeli official accompanying Netanyahu on the trip threatened to assassinate Syrian President Assad by bombing his palace in Damascus, while further adding that Israel will seek to derail the US-Russia brokered de-escalation deal reached in Astana, Kazakhstan earlier this summer.
According to the Jerusalem Post:
A senior Israeli official warned the Russian government that if Iran continues to extend its reach in Syria, Israel will bomb Syrian President Bashar Assad’s palace in Damascus, according to reports in Arab media.
Israel also warned that if serious changes do not happen in the region, Israel will make sure the ceasefire deal, reached by the United States and Russia in Astana, Kazakhstan, will be nullified.
A senior Israeli source told the Al-Jadida newspaper that no understanding was reached between the Israelis and the Russians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did, however, make it clear to Putin that its concerns must be met or Israel will be forced to act.
The warnings occurred in a meeting between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.
As we noted at the time, Netanyahu’s brazen words to Putin that ‘preventative’ escalation in Syria to destroy what Israeli defense officials commonly call the “Iranian land bridge” (or the so-called ‘Shia crescent’) reveals increased desperation as even the West is now seeming to ignore Netanyahu’s repeatedly declared “red lines”. While Netanyahu’s public statements in Sochi were provocative enough – openly threatening direct military escalation in Syria should his demand for Iranian forces withdrawal not be met – the newly revealed threat of assassinating the sitting head of a sovereign U.N. member state takes the war of words to a whole new level.
Israel has warned Russia it will bomb Assad’s palace if Iran continues to expand in Syria, according to officials https://t.co/uqunMXSPvG
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) August 28, 2017
The Israeli Prime Minister also shared intelligence with Putin which purports to reveal Iranian plans for long-term presence in Syria. It appears Netanyahu is now making his case before world media, with new BBC and other international headlines reading, “Iran building missile factories in Syria and Lebanon: Netanyahu”.
The Jerusalem Post details exactly which officials accompanied Netanyahu in Russia:
The prime minister, accompanied by Mossad head Yossi Cohen, the newly appointed head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin who served as his translator, flew to Sochi on the Black Sea for the meeting, returning to Israel shortly after it ended.
We further explained that Israel has long been at open war with Syria, in spite of the fact that both Israeli officials and international media rarely acknowledge it. In 2013 Israel launched a massive missile attack against a Syrian defense technology facility in Jamraya outside of Damascus. And yet more brazen was the 2016 attack targeting Damascus International Airport, which killed a well-known Hezbollah commander. In a significant admission earlier this month, the head of Israel’s air force acknowledged nearly one hundred IDF attacks on convoys inside Syria over the course of the past 5 years.
Netanyahu himself was recently caught on a hot mic bragging that Israel had struck Syrian targets at least “a dozen times”. And this is to say nothing of Israel’s covert support to al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria’s south, which has reportedly involved weapons transfers and treatment of wounded jihadists in Israeli hospitals, the latter which was widely promoted in photo ops involving Netanyahu himself. As even former Acting Director of the CIA Michael Morell once directly told the Israeli public, Israel’s “dangerous game” in Syria consists in getting in bed with al-Qaeda in order to fight Shia Iran.
Assad’s presidential office building – New Shaab Palace – sits above central Damascus. Image source: Flickr/Nawar-2012
While Israel has for years played more of a quiet ‘long game’ in Syria outside the media spotlight: providing tacit support to al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria along its Golan border (in Netanyahu’s words to Putin: Israel prefers the “Sunni sphere” over “bringing in Shi’ites” which reflects a disturbing widely held view among Israeli officials that ISIS is the ‘lesser evil’) as well semi-regularly bombing select targets, its increased willingness to loudly and unreservedly voice its intentions to the world is the result new realities it appears unprepared to accept.
What new realities in the region are now pushing Israeli officials to incautiously leak threats of Assad’s assassination to the Arab press?
First, the Syrian government and its allies Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are winning the war. In Israel’s thinking the Astana agreement potentially means Iranian presence will now be backed by Russian air power. It also appears that in the United States’ backing of ‘de-escalation zones’ which necessarily involves Iranian enforcement, the US is giving tacit approval to Iranian troop presence in Syria. This is Israel’s worst nightmare: it invested so heavily in toppling Assad in the first place in order to roll back what it claims is ‘Iranian and pro-Shia expansion’ in the region.
Secondly, the US has essentially signaled to Israel: you are on your own when it comes to Syria policy. Trump shut down the CIA program to topple Assad – a program which had the assistance of Israeli intelligence. Other world leaders like France’s Macron have further stated that Assad is here to say for the near future.
Third, Hezbollah has just finished wiping up ISIS on the Lebanese-Syrian border and now appears more confident than ever. Israel went all in with the Sunni insurgency fighting Assad as that insurgency also threatened the existence of Hezbollah, which Israeli defense officials understand to be the most formidable foe right across Israel’s border. On Monday Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah declared August 28 as Lebanon’s “Second Day of Liberation” in a televised address celebrating Lebanon’s military victory over ISIS in the country’s northeast. As we reported recently, it’s an ‘open secret’ that US special forces advisers are indirectly coordinating with Hezbollah through the Lebanese Army, though politically sensitive as Lebanon depends heavily on US military aid.
And finally, Israel senses that international opinion is shifting quickly now that ISIS is rapidly folding. It knows that world opinion will not stomach another Iraq style invasion for regime change in the Middle East. And yet such a prospect of regime change in Syria is now all the more difficult as Russian air defenses are so deeply entrenched. Israel now finds itself isolated and Netanyahu’s brazenness stems from this realization. His screams grow louder from a position of weakness.
Now, the only question that remains is: on the remote chance that Israel does escalate militarily in Syria, what will Russia let it get away with?
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