Israel to Host American, Russian Security Chiefs in Bid to Align Regional Approaches
Iran’s adventurism and the Syria conflict expected to dominate talks
Israel will convene a tripartite meeting bringing together security chiefs from the U.S. and Russia in a bid to align their Middle East policies, specifically as regards Iran’s expansionism and potential nuclearization, as well as the conflict in Syria.
“In June, United States National Security Adviser Ambassador John Bolton, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolay Patrushev will meet in Jerusalem, Israel, to discuss regional security issues,” a White House press statement read in part.
“The meeting is the result of a [rapprochement] between the U.S. and Russia, and the main purpose is to [jump-start] a direct dialogue despite Western opposition to various Russian actions,” Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Moscow and today a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line.
“After Netanyahu was in Washington [in March], he thereafter traveled to speak with Putin and [now] appears to be acting as an intermediary in [what has become a diplomatic] triangle,” Magen explained.
“US President Donald Trump is focused on Iran, in particular, and there could be an eventual achievement because Russia has offered to move the Iranians out of Syria,” he noted.
Indeed, given the American leader’s clear intent to draw down US forces stationed in Syria, analysts believe he will seek guarantees from his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to rein in the Islamic Republic’s attempt to establish permanent military infrastructure in the war-torn country.
The initiative comes against the backdrop of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Moscow views the latter as an ally in its fight on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Nevertheless, both the U.S. and Israel are expected to push for a united front in support of the Trump Administration’s pressure campaign against the mullahs, foremost as it relates to reimposed sanctions that are beginning to decimate the Iranian economy.
President Trump will also likely discuss Turkey’s threats to launch a military offensive to retake areas in eastern Syria held by U.S.-aligned Syrian-Kurdish fighters. It was those fighters who did most of the heavy lifting in the battle to eliminate Islamic State, although Ankara views them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has long sought autonomy and even statehood inside Turkey, where it has been designated a terrorist organization.
In exchange, Magen added, “there will be American overtures to Moscow. The next stage in the process will probably be about what to do with Ukraine, the likely [focus] of a potential follow-up summit between Trump and Putin, perhaps in Japan.”
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has over the past two-plus years green-lighted hundreds, if not thousands, of strikes against Iranian military infrastructure in Syria, and almost certainly will insist that Moscow abide by a reported informal agreement to keep Tehran-allied Shi’ite troops – including members of the Lebanon-based Hizbullah – from operating within 60 miles of the Israeli-Syrian border.
“A meeting like this has never taken place before in Israel…. We have a lot of things that we want to do,” Netanyahu asserted immediately after the Israeli parliament last week voted to disbanded itself, setting in motion new elections.
The Media Line also spoke with Dr. Fadi Essmaeel, a former senior staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and presently a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.
“Israel has consistently struck inside Syria, but Russia rules the skies, so it is important [for Netanyahu] to strengthen the [existing de-confliction mechanism between the two militaries to avoid incidents],” Essmaeel told The Media Line.
“Regarding the American force in Syria, it is small but strategically significant and has a huge effect. It is an enormous card that [President Trump] is unlikely easily to give up,” he stated.
“Another major point,” Essmaeel elaborated, “is preventing an Iranian land corridor from [Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea, spanning Iraq, Syria and Lebanon]. So there are tactical issues that need to be dealt with.”
On the flip side, experts told The Media Line that President Putin will press to consolidate his role as the primary power broker in Damascus, and strive for concessions on other issues should he decide to acquiesce to Israeli and American requests. This could, they suggest, entail some form of de facto acceptance of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the limited curbing of NATO activities in eastern Europe, or the tacit approval of the anticipated purchase by Turkey of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.
Bridging the divides, however, will be no easy task even though the prospective Jerusalem meeting is a meaningful initiative, Yaakov Amidror, former chairman of Israel’s National Security Council and currently a fellow at both the Washington-based JINSA think-tank and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told The Media Line.
“If it happens – which is uncertain, given the [testy] relations between Washington and Moscow – it will be a huge opportunity to demonstrate that all three parties have a common interest in making the region more peaceful and to coordinate, or at least make known, their respective positions,” Amidror said.
“I don’t think that Moscow will initially get behind President Trump’s approach toward Iran… [and so] there may not be any immediate practical outcomes of the meeting, although there may be long-term dividends. For Israel,” he continued, “the main issue is Iran’s aggressive policies, and it is very important that the Americans and Russians understand the logic of [each other’s] actions.”
Essmaeel agrees on the significance of attempting to synchronize the three countries’ positions but argues that the talks need to take into account the broader geopolitical reality.
“The world does not work in [an] ‘either or’ [mode] and [the players] have competing interests. Iran is raising tensions in the region with a view to relieving some American pressure, and the Russians are playing a dual-game. They want to avoid strengthening Iran [even though they are ostensible partners in Syria], but Moscow does not want to hand the U.S. a gift,” Essmaeel told The Media Line.
“Russia might be able to get concessions in return, such as the reduction of sanctions on it,” he said. “The entire situation is fluid and there can be quid pro quo arrangements regarding everything on the table. This [Jerusalem] conference is not the final point, as there are always [security developments] that warrant discussion.”
While differences between the parties will always exist, most consider the effort to bridge the gaps among global powers a worthy endeavor. Moreover, as cracks begin to show in the Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria, the sides may be able to find sufficient common ground to adopt overarching policies that alter the prevailing regional status quo, which is unstable, and thus explosive.