Russia in Syria and the Implications for Israel

(Strategic Assessment-INSS) Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin - Russia's direct military involvement in Syria in the latter months of 2015 and initial months of 2016 was a demonstration that military force can "make all the difference." The Russian military campaign saved the Assad regime from downfall, changed the balance of power in Syria, and leveraged the dynamics in order to pursue a ceasefire and diplomatic talks. Under Putin's leadership, Russia, taking calculated risks, took advantage of the global weakness of the U.S. over the last decade and acted to promote its vital interests in Europe and the Middle East and to reposition itself as a world power. Notwithstanding Putin's announcement that the purpose of Russia's military intervention was to fight extremist Islamic terrorist groups, upon examining the map of the Russian attacks, it appears that battling the Islamic State was a low priority, particularly during the initial stages of the campaign. For Moscow, Russia's involvement in the Middle East arena served first and foremost to restore Russia to its proper standing in the world. Through its focused and determined intervention in Syria, Russia demonstrated that it is a key player whose involvement is essential to the resolution of international issues. Russia's second objective was to leverage the Syrian issue in order to resolve problems in other arenas important to it, mainly Europe in general and Ukraine in particular. Upon the increase in Russian involvement and its shift to direct air sorties, Israel conducted itself with extreme caution, was careful to avoid any Russian fighter planes, and took into account the Russians' firepower and their sophisticated air defense systems. The Russians have stated openly that they have a deep understanding of Israeli interests in Syria and that Russia's future actions in Syria will not jeopardize Israel's security. On the other hand, the Russian intervention led to the strengthening of the radical Shiite axis, with its problematic positioning close to Israel's borders. The strengthening of the Iran-Hizbullah-Syria axis, its return to being a dominant force in Syria, its acquisition of sophisticated, high-quality equipment, high-quality intelligence about Israel at the disposal of the axis, and the improvement in Hizbullah's fighting capabilities could jeopardize Israel's security in the future. Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli military intelligence, is executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

2016-08-05 00:00:00

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