That loud noise you hear now coming out of the Middle East is the sound of a frighteningly dangerous game of chicken between Russia and Israel [and inferentially the U.S.}.
Last minute pleas by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Soviet President Vladimir Putin, delivered at Sochi on the Black Sea where Moscow has stumbled into a monumentally expensive international Winter Olympic screwup, apparently went unheeded. Never mind that Pres. Obama’s emissary, the Vietnam veteran and U.S. foreign minister, former Senator John Kerry, had just been there with the same mission. In today’s digitalspeak, he was trying to “task manage”, or “reset” , or “reboot” but was finally faced with a “logoff” in U.S.-Russian relations. Indeed, Kerry and Netanyahu, got the old Russian valenki [boot]
Both supplicants were asking Moscow to halt arms to the embattled monster, Basher al Assad, killing civilians in Syria – up to 80,000 now according to a UN count Not only were they thrown out with condescension but insulted immediately thereafter:
Kerry’s proposal for an international conference to find a peaceful way out [for Assad], ostensibly accepted by Putin but with no date fixed, was met by an almost simultaneous Russian phony spy entrapment. The obviously planted evidence was so poorly organized that it turned into a charade resembling a comic spook movie.
As the door slammed on Netanyahu, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the $5 billion in Russian arms sales to Assad would include the formidable anti-aircraft S300missile defense system and new cruise missiles. He said they were already on their way to the old Soviet Union Arab stooge, the Assad dynasty in Damascus. Furthermore, Russia had spent weeks gathering its moribund fleet to stand offshore [apparently to protect the Syrians from the earlier successful Israeli waterborne cruise missiles aimed at Damascus airport arms transfers to Jerusalem’s bitter enemy, the south Lebanese Hez’bollah].
But the black death joker in the deck was the necessity — which Moscow announced — that all systems would be accompanied by Russian technicians. The S300 is a complex, big and thoroughly Russian anti-missile defense system. It cannot be run without Russian technicians. A Russian Interfax story claims the system is already in Syria with Russian technicians’ boots on the ground. The generally well-informed Moscow correspondent Pavel Felgenhauer sees Russian technicians accompanying the missiles as part of Putin’s publicly expressed snarling disdain for Washington and, particularly, Obama.
According to American experts, the cruise missile platform too requires sophisticated Russian technicians with tracking capabilities — assuming this variety is capable of striking such targets, otherwise it is limited to striking fixed targets where the coordinates [Haifa and Tel Aviv] are known. Meanwhile, all sides — the jihadist dominant faction among the Syrian opposition, Hez’bollah’s shock troops with Assad, and Palestinian “refugees” inside Syria — call for openimg up a “second front” with the Israelis on the Golan Heights border with Syria. Israeli tanks have recently moved up and would have a 60-mile.downhill straight-line drop into Damascus against once formidable but now ageing Syrian Soviet tanks and a crumbling UN peacekeeping force setup expressly set up to ward off such a breakdown in what has been Israel’s quietest border.
No wonder the Ruskies are sending their spetsnaz. The last time the Soviets – oops! the Russians, armed their Syrian lackeys with hi-tech equipment, the Israelis with their American fighters in June5, 1967 knocked off an entire Soviet MIG fighter fleet [59 planes] in a matter of minutes. That included included muffing then state-of-the-art Soviet-supplied radar with a shower of metal-coated chewing gum wrappers.
Still, Netanyahu and the IDF have big problems. Further transfers of arms to the Hez’bollah – who came close to winning a stand-off in the 34-day 2006 Second Lebanon War with Israel – is not only a potential threat to the Israelis. It could mean a reassertion of the Shia jihadists; dominance in Beirut. It remains to be seen whether growing commitments of Hez’bollah fighters to Assad’s [and Iran’s] cause in Syria is producing veteran, blooded troops to meet the next Israeli-Hez’bollah encounter, or whether they are being bled white by the growing jihadist-dominated Syrian opposition with its increasing foreign volunteers. [That brings up memories of the nine-year anti-Soviet War in Afghanistan, which, alas! produced the origins of Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda.]
The wavering Obama Administration not only has to worry about the effect of checkmate on any Israeli/U.S. military strike against the Tehran mullahs’ nuclear and missile toys, but the growth of Hez’bollah as an autonomous regional power is critical. After all, it was Hez’bollah – before the original [not the Benghazi] 9/11 – in 1983 in Beirut suicide car bombings killed more Americans than any other terrorist operation [241 American servicemen, including 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, along with sixty American civilians injured].. Now Hez’bollah is reportedly – with its long experience in Lebanon’s BekaaValley collaborating with Assad’s deceased brother – moving into the drug cartels in Latin America. Unmtil recently it was aided by its alliance with deceased Venezuelan populist-dictator Huge Chavez. There may or may not be substance to reports that among the acknowledged occasional Mideasterner illegals crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are Hez’bollah agents.
If the Russians bluff their way through this one, the problem of dealing with Assad’s backers, the mullahs in Tehran to whom Putin has continued nuclear equipment sales along with German companies, becomes even more daunting. There is general agreement that whatever the sanctions – UN. US, British, Euro, etc. – have done, they have not halted Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
That’s partly because of Obama’s strategies of “leading from behind” include giving a sheaf of passes to various friends such as India and Japan who are big Iranian trading partners but who supposedly were on the side of those opposing another nuclear-clad state in the hands of Islamic religious fanatics. [Pakistan is far too close to that definition not to worry, “democratic” elections just concluded notwithstanding. The new Prime Minister-designate Nawaz Sharif is notorious for his footsie with the Islamic radicals and the Saudis.]
Putin, too, is rapidly locking himself into a position without a graceful retreat. Despite major Obama concessions – the most notable, the withdrawal of proposed anti-missile bases in Poland and the CzechRepublic after compromising those governments – no US.-Russia “reset” is in view. In fact, Putin is making anti-American paranoia a cornerstone of support for his regime, now declining in popularity and soon facing extreme economic difficulties.
Supported almost completely by its gas and oil exports to Europe – notably Germany – Moscow now faces an increasingly volatile international energy market. That would snag Russia’s high cost production and failure to reinvest in gas and oil reserves and worn pipelines. The U.S. shale gas explosion – although enviromentalista critics have had a hard time proving any such possibilities for the water supply – is willy-nilly and to the consternation of the Obama energy crew not only leading the U.S. into self-sufficiency in fossil fuels but looking toward LPG exports. Current estimates of the notoriously unpredictable energy markets are that in five years the U.S. will be accounting for more than half of the growth in world oil and gas production.
Additional ripples of the American energy revolution are still expanding, of course, and have their geopolitical effect on all of this.. For example, German utilities have been dependent on high-cost Russian gas imports and camouflaged nuclear power from France and the Czech Republic as it supposedly phases out its own nuclear plants . But now there are German utility switchovers to cheaper American coal imports prices caused by gas surpluses at home.
With all these known and unknown implications of this test of wills and strengths, the fruits of victory could not be higher.
For Putin, it is his egomaniacal attempt to return Russia to superpower status to validate its permanent veto seat on the UN Security council [under attack by India and Brazil clambering to be moved up as [permanent regional reps]. But the list of Moscow’s troubles extend from the Russian contest for influence among the former Soviet Central Asian Republics against Beijing’s encroachment, and the ultimate destiny of vast, resource-rich Siberia, depopulating even faster than the rest of Russia and, oh! so close to “rising” China.
For Israel, whatever the validity of the repeated threat of Iran’s mullahs to wipe the Jewish state off the map, the most recent promise by Tehran to see that the Assad regime survives is a threat. Assad facilitating arms transfers to Hez’bollah on Jerusalem’s northern border, the possible restoration of Tehran’s once close arms ties even to Sunni Hamas terrorists in Gaza on the south, and the always shaky role of Jordan on the east could mean an all-front war. Even though Jordan is[one of two Arab states with whom Jerusalem has a peace treaty it is being inundated with part of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees still pouring out. [And there is the memory in Jerusalem if not Washington that the Good Little King Hussein was begged by Jerusalem not to enter the 1967 war when Amman lost the West Bank, and his role in the First Persian Gulf War when unlike Assad he gave Iraq’s Sadamm Hussein a temporary trade lifeline]
What would amount to a Russian-assisted victory for Assad might well mean Mideast hegemony for Persia. Or at best, it could mean a new, short three-front war for the expert but hard-pressed Israeli military demanding another miracle in its 65-year history.
This is the ultimate and could be the most profound test for Obama’s “leading from behind” as an Administration, crippled by domestic corruption, tries to put a tourniquet on its various domestic hemorrhages. Kerry’s worldwide introductory tour is turning into a celebration of American defeats and loss of prestige – Moscow’s ridicule, his failure to pour any oil on the Euro’s conintuing troubled waters with an increasingly paranoid Germany and a France going into new recession, mo surcease to an Italy in its usual political crisis facing a possible Greek-Spanish style economic blowout, Erdogan’s Turkey where one of Obama’s “best friends” has lost his neo-Ottoman way and is headed toward an economic crash,. He skipped Egypt, threatened by Iran while its Sunni Muslim Brotherhood jihadist leadership faces a possible military coup – with or without U.S. support – and an economy bottoming out with its coming failure even to pay for massive food imports. In Japan he found out Prime Minister Shinto Abe had neglected to tell the Americans he was sending an envoy to Pyongyang to try to get back its kidnapped victims while Pyonayhg shot off missiles. Even Seoul, having to back off its new tough line on North Korea because of a waffling American line, was not happy…
So the squawks are real! But this is not three American teenagers testing their adolescent testerone with their crates on a beach road leading to a cliff. This could be, as we have said here before, as imperfect a facsimile — and all historical analogies always are — of the Spanish Civil War prelude to World War II with no side the winner in the short term.