[Marxism] Fwd: Russia's Syrian Intervention Could Constrain Iran and Hezbollah—and Help Israel | Foreign Affairs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 7 09:07:20 MDT 2015

On 10/6/15 8:16 PM, Louis Proyect via Marxism wrote:
> https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/israel/2015-10-03/strange-bedfellows-syria

(Apparently this was behind a paywall.)

Strange Bedfellows in Syria
Russian Intervention Could Constrain Iran and Hezbollah—and Help Israel
By Nicholas Noe

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the United Nations 
General Assembly, defending his country’s support for the government of 
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and casting Russia’s military buildup 
in Syria as an effort to combat jihadist forces, including the Islamic 
State (also known as ISIS). Days later, Russia began a campaign of 
airstrikes in Syria. Washington immediately cried foul, asserting that 
Russia had actually targeted not ISIS but rather other opponents of 
Assad—including some backed by the United States. American officials 
warned of the risk of miscommunications and mishaps as both U.S. and 
Russia warplanes carry out missions in the skies above Syria.

Most analysts have viewed these developments through the lens of 
geopolitical competition between Russia and the United States. Some have 
argued that Putin is taking advantage of a vacuum supposedly created by 
limited U.S. involvement in Syria, and that Putin is using the crisis as 
a way to increase Russia’s influence in the Middle East. Others have 
countered that the Russian leader is merely dragging his country into a 
quagmire that U.S. President Barack Obama has opted to avoid. Both of 
those arguments, however, share the assumption that Russia’s stepped-up 
support represents a boost for the pro-Assad coalition, which in 
addition to Russia also includes Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

But deeper Russian intervention also has the potential to complicate 
matters for the pro-Assad bloc, since Russia’s interests are not always 
aligned with those of Assad’s patrons in Tehran and allies in Beirut. In 
fact, Russia’s interests are in some important ways less aligned with 
those of the pro-Assad faction than with the interests of that bloc’s 
sworn enemy: Israel. And Putin could very well use his newfound leverage 
within the pro-Assad coalition to push both the Syrian regime and its 
other backers into more moderate positions—on the Syrian conflict and 

At first glance, one might expect Russia’s military campaign in Syria to 
worry Israel. And indeed, last month, amid signs that Russia planned to 
step up its involvement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 
hurried to Moscow to meet with Putin. Ever since the start of the Syrian 
civil war in 2011, the Israelis have tried to take advantage of the 
fighting to disrupt the flow of Iranian arms through Syria to Hezbollah, 
which has been involved in a decades-long conflict with the Jewish 
state. The Israelis do not quite long for Assad’s demise, since they 
fear that what might follow him could be worse. But they have tried to 
capitalize on his weakness to damage Hezbollah’s capabilities. According 
to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, since 2011 the Israelis have launched 
more than a dozen air strikes against targets in Lebanon and Syria, 
targeting weapons caches and arms-transport convoys. Many analysts 
believe that during the same period, Israeli intelligence services have 
carried out a number of assassinations of Hezbollah operatives in both 

The arrival of Russian forces in Syria has made it harder for Israel to 
plan and execute such operations. Just as the Americans worry about an 
inadvertent clash between their forces and Russia’s, so too do the 
Israelis wish to avoid working directly at cross-purposes with Russia, a 
country with which Israel maintains fairly good relations. Complicating 
matters further is the fact that, according to Ha’aretz, some of the 
weapons convoys and warehouses that Israel has attacked in Syria 
included Russian-made long-range antiship missiles. And some of the 
Israeli strikes took place near Latakia, close to where the Russians 
have now established an air base.

Given those factors, one might expect that Putin’s decision to begin 
using direct Russian force in Syria would cheer Assad’s other allies—not 
only because it could bolster Assad’s grip on power but also because it 
might constrain Israel’s ability to take advantage of the chaos in 
Syria. Sure enough, last week, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hassan 
Nasrallah, praised Russia’s military buildup, explaining that Hezbollah 
welcomes “any force that enters Syria to support” the Assad regime and 
describing the Russian moves as “coordinated” with Assad’s other allies. 
In recent days, a number of news outlets have reported that Iranian 
troops and Hezbollah fighters are planning a coordinated ground 
offensive against anti-Assad forces, with air support from Russian 


On closer inspection, however, Russia’s forceful entrance into the 
Syrian conflict might not have the effects that many of the players seem 
to expect. One reason is that Russia has no dog in the sectarian fight 
that has come to partly define the conflict, which pits a pro-Assad 
Shiite bloc led by Iran against an anti-Assad Sunni coalition led by 
Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Putin wants Assad to stay in power not because 
Assad is the linchpin of any Shiite axis but because Syria is the only 
place that Russia maintains sizable influence in the Middle East, and 
because Assad is a secular autocrat—much like Putin, who gets nervous 
anytime opposition forces in a country friendly to Russia seem poised to 
remove a ruler of his own type. That means that when it comes time to 
negotiate a political settlement to resolve the Syrian civil war—which 
is how this conflict will probably end someday—Russia is likelier than 
Iran to pressure Assad to accept accommodations with Sunni factions in a 
power-sharing arrangement or an outright partition of the country.

The Iranians and Hezbollah also consider Assad a member of their 
revolutionary vanguard, the “Axis of Resistance” against Israeli and 
American power. One of their goals in propping him up is to make sure 
that Syria remains a “resistance state” in perpetuity, projecting power 
in the region and restricting Israel’s room to maneuver. But Russia does 
not share that goal at all. Putin sees Assad as a source of stability 
and predictability not as part of a revolutionary, ideological vanguard 
determined to transform the regional order. Russia maintains relatively 
close ties with Israel, and has little interest in aiding Iran and 
Hezbollah’s anti-Zionist agenda. Put simply, Putin has pledged to defend 
Assad, but he has not signed up for the regional showdown driven in 
large part by religion and ideology that Assad’s other friends have long 

Russia’s interests are in some important ways less aligned with those of 
the pro-Assad faction than with the interests of that bloc’s sworn 
enemy: Israel
Indeed, at a certain point, Russia might choose to use its new leverage 
not only to moderate Assad but also to constrain the other members of 
the pro-Assad bloc. Now that Iran and Hezbollah will be relying to a 
larger extent on Russia, Putin might press them to focus on the task of 
propping up the Assad regime and to deprioritize some of their other 
activities: for example, discouraging Hezbollah from supporting 
Palestinian militants or developing military infrastructure near the 
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Putin could go even further, in an attempt to demonstrate that the use 
of Russian force has a stabilizing effect on the region unlike recent 
exertions of U.S. power. For example, he might insist that Iran 
significantly reduce its shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, a move that 
would not only please Israel but would show up the United States, which 
would find it extremely difficult to effect such a shift in Iranian 
behavior. Similarly, Putin might try to use his additional leverage to 
create conditions for a multiparty settlement to the many conflicts that 
are raging in the region: for example, he could encourage Iran to scale 
back its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen or push Tehran to rein in 
the various Iraqi Shiite militias that it backs, all with the aim of 
seeking—or at least appearing to seek—the kind of regional stability 
that Washington has been unable to foster.

Either way, one thing is certain: Israel will now be able to turn to a 
powerful and sympathetic contact at the center of the pro-Assad 
coalition should the conflict begin to pose a more severe threat to 
Israeli interests.

Despite these possibilities, most Western analysts seem to assume that 
Russia’s military intervention will only allow Assad and his allies to 
become less willing to make concessions or to moderate their actions. 
Yet if Western powers can find ways to exploit the latent tensions 
within the pro-Assad camp, and perhaps even encourage Putin to use his 
leverage in a constructive fashion, what may appear to be an 
inflammatory Russian leap into the Syrian quagmire might instead wind up 
representing a step towards ending the cascade of conflicts that is 
tearing apart the Middle East.

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