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

A.R. G amithrgupta at gmail.com
Wed Oct 7 09:25:25 MDT 2015

I met the author once in Lebanon doing research for my undergrad thesis.
Probably one of the smartest commentators on Syria/Lebanon that I've met. I
highly recommend  "Voices of Hezbollah," edited and translated by him.

- Amith

On Wed, Oct 7, 2015 at 11:07 AM, Louis Proyect via Marxism <
marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:

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> 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 beyond.
> 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 countries.
> 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 warplanes.
> 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 pursued.
> 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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