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Putin’s Version of “Pull Out” from Syria: Permanent Air and Naval Bases

It depends on what you mean by “pull out forces from Syria.” Apparently, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the “pull out” in early December, he neglected to mention, until now, that his version of a pull-out includes permanent naval and air bases in Latakia and Khmeimim. Putin corrected the oversight on Monday when he arrived on a surprise visit, saying that he will withdraw “a significant portion” of the large force that has been deployed in Syria to assist Assad’s army in the six-year long civil war that has decimated the country. By establishing the Russian bases in Syria, Putin has also formalized the next step in Russia’s return to being a primary military force in the Middle East. In 1979, Russia’s patronage of Egypt ended with the US-brokered Camp David treaty and its military fortunes tanked as the then-Soviet army bogged down in its war in Afghanistan. But the trend suddenly reversed during the Obama years when Egypt’s new president became incensed at the American administration’s holding back aid money, responding with an “open patronage” declaration: no more exclusivity, “we’ll buy arms from anyone.” The air and naval bases in the region have been on the burner for some time, raising concern in Jerusalem about future flexibility in fighting the Iranian presence including its Lebanon-based terror proxy, Hizbullah. Preventing an Iranian/Hizbullah presence in Syria has been on the Netanyahu wish-list during his many visits with Putin along with requests not to sell the Syrians certain sophisticated weapons systems. But apparently, the Israeli prime minister has failed to move Putin.

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