IT is partly because the mainstream Western media persists with its hysteria on Trump’s failure to stand up to Putin on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election that other aspects of the meeting between the two men in Helsinki have yet to come to the fore. One of them is about the position that the two adopted on Israel.
Some sections of the Zionist-linked media in particular are suggesting that as a result of the Helsinki Summit, Israel has now become “a joint American-Russian protectorate”. The media conference that Trump and Putin addressed, according to these sources, underscored this. There is absolutely no truth to this claim.
One, the transcript of the actual words uttered by Putin does not indicate any desire on his part to “protect Israel” What he said was something else. He noted “that after the terrorists are routed in southwest Syria, in the so-called ‘southern zone,’ the situation in the Golan Heights should be brought into full conformity with the 1974 agreement on the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces. This will make it possible to bring tranquility to the Golan Heights and restore the ceasefire between the Syrian Arab Republic and the State of Israel” The terrorists that Putin is referring are those from Daesh and other such outfits who have been fighting the Bashar Al-Assad government for 7 years. Bashar in turn has received unwavering military and political support from Russia. The 1974 Agreement is about troop disengagement and nothing else. It does not recognize the annexation of the Golan Heights by Israel in 1967.
Two, at the Helsinki media conference, it was the US President Donald Trump who spoke about helping Israel and about “the safety of Israel.” It was he who dragged Putin’s name into the equation. As he put it, “We’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years, many decades. I think there never has been any country closer than we are. President Putin also is helping Israel, and we both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu. And they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel. So, in that respect we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel, and Israel will be working with us, so both countries would work jointly.” By revealing that it was Trump who was overly concerned about Israel, one is not implying that Putin or Russia is hostile towards Israel. We are very much aware of the close ties that Russia has with Israel and that Putin is in constant communication with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders.
Three, if “ Israel’s safety,” a central preoccupation of the state, has assumed extraordinary significance in recent months especially in relation to Syria it is because of developments in that country in the course of the last 12 months or so. The terrorists, and militants in general, many of whom were aided and abetted until recently by Israel, the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, among other states, have failed in their bid to oust Bashar and usurp power in Damascus. It is their defeat, a huge setback for Israel, the US and the others that has generated apprehension within the Israeli elite about “Israel’s safety”. It appears that Netanyahu sought some assurance from Damascus via Moscow on this question. Netanyahu’s recent statement that Israel accepts Bashar’s rule in Syria and is not seeking regime change is, in a sense, the quid pro quo that Damascus demanded in exchange for a pledge that the latter has no intention of undermining Israel’s position.
Four, it is not Syria per se that Israel regards as a threat. It is the Iranian military presence in Syria, especially in the vicinity of the Golan Heights that worries Israel. This is why it was hoping that Putin would be able to persuade Iranian special forces to cease operations in that area and elsewhere. Putin is in no position to compel Iran to act the way Israel wants. Iran and Syria enjoy an intimate relationship that was forged decades ago. Besides, Putin knows that Russian air-power would not have been able to secure victory over the terrorists in Syria without the active collaboration of Iranian intelligence and combat forces on the ground. It is one of the reasons why Russian leaders told their Israeli counterparts that as long as there are terrorists in Syria, it would not be right to curb the activities of Iranian operatives.
Five, Putin also realises that the support and cooperation of Iran is vital for restoring peace in Syria and protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Already Iran is playing a pivotal role in the Astana peace negotiations. It is also true that Iranian influence is increasing in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) as a whole. Why would Russia want to antagonise such an important player merely to please Israel?
Six, this is related to to yet another crucial point : Russia’s own desire to play a more decisive role in WANA which it rightly perceives as critical to its own security and well-being. To play such a role, Russia not only has to maintain good relations with the governments of the region but will also have to commmand the respect of the people of WANA. If Russia is seen as Israel’s protector, it will certainly forfeit the respect and goodwill of the people and of most governments in the region. Why would an ascendant power destined to play a fundamental role in WANA’s present and future want to make such a foolish move?
Seven, all the above arguments are reinforced by Russia’s own track record on Israeli occupation and Palestinian self-determination. Together with most of the international community, Russia has consistently opposed Israeli annexation and usurpation of the lands and rights of the Palestinians and other Arabs. At the same time, it supports the Palestinian right of self-determination and the idea of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel.
To put it in a nutshell, Russia has never been --- and will never be --- a ‘protector’ of Israel the way the US has been all these years.
* Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.