When National Security Adviser John Bolton was visiting Moscow, doing advance work for the July 16 Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, I’m guessing one important question was quietly asked. How far is Russia prepared to extend its policy of non-interference should Israel, with active support from the United States, deal a crippling blow to Iranian-backed and Hezbollah forces in Syria?
I’m guessing that this is a very real possibility. Certainly Israeli Defense Forces computers are already programmed with maps targeting every base, camp and warehouse in Syria belonging to Iran and Hezbollah.
I’m guessing that the combination of American and Israel air and missile power is capable of hitting most of those targets, which are pretty much defenseless from such an attack.
So, the question is, will Russia rush to the defense of Iran and Hezbollah, or will it shrug the attack off, as it did just weeks ago, when Israel made several air assaults on Iranian and Hezbollah properties?
If the answer is, “We’ll shrug,” the only remaining serious question is, do you mind if Israel and the US do it before July 16, or would that mess up the summit?
The US has squawked, but effectively shrugged off Russia’s welshing on an agreement by supporting Syrian, Hezbollah and Iranian forces with bombing attacks on one-time US allies in Southwest Syria.
Could it be that the Russian bombing and the American acquiescence are actually part of a trap, laid to lure the Iranians and their Lebanese allies into crossing Israeli (and American) red lines?
Russia wants the Iranian forces and Hezbollah out of Syria almost as much as Israel, the US and Bashar al-Assad do.
There is another question both the US and Russian must consider. What will Iran (and Hezbollah) do to defend their holdings in Syria?
Will they understand that all the “bystanders,” Russia, Turkey, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are against them, and are quite happy to see Israel kick their asses? Can they accept that with no effective allies and nowhere near enough firepower, they have little choice but to “eat it?”
Trump and Netanyahu seem ready to bet that Iran will get it, and get out of Syria.
Both the American and the Israeli leaders have some good, genuinely strategic reasons to act now, but both also have lots of bad reasons to escalate conflict to distract citizens from their political and legal problems.
I have no insights into what Putin told Bolton or how Iran might react to such a large-scale confrontation, but two things I will confidently predict:
1.Notwithstanding the glories of digital mapping and guided delivery, the American and Israeli air attack will hit some unintended targets and cause pain and suffering that will be widely displayed by regional and global media.
2. Even if all the predicted outcomes happen, and Iran is forced to accept defeat in their most important international adventure, and Hezbollah doesn’t create an active military front on Israel’s northern border; and the people of Syria embrace peace and the removal of their foreign visitors and accept that the Assad regime’s survival is a price they have to pay for both; and Syria benefits from the guardianship and counsel of its great Russian ally — even if all that takes place — something else, something important but unforeseen, will be among the consequences of the US-Israeli mission.