When the saying “All roads lead to Rome” was coined, Rome was the power center of the Western World, and the roads came from all directions, from Spain and France, Britain and Germany, Greece and the Middle East.
These days, it seems all air routes, especially for big diplomatic flights from the Middle East, lead to Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Foreign Minister of Jordan was just there begging Putin to call off his bombers in southwestern Syria. After a brief pause, the Russian resumed air attacks on everything from rebel troop positions to local hospitals and clinics, in support of a Syrian government campaign to take back one of the last remaining areas of resistance to President Bashar al-Assad. Russian bombers cleared a path for Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah ground forces to recapture a key highway border crossing into Jordan.
By UN estimations, more than 300,000 Syrian civilians have fled their homes – more to escape the Russian bombing on their villages and town than from the ground forces. Tens of thousands of refugees are camped out, as close as they can get to the closed borders of Jordan and Israel. Jordan has sent trucks with aid supplies into Syria, even as artillery shells from the attacking Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah forces have landed inside Jordan.
Israel, has also sent aid convoys to Syrian refugees and its tanks and artillery cannons to the border, and when what Israeli military sources described as a stray Syrian government shell landed in the demilitarized zone separating Israeli-occupied Golan from Syria proper, Israel fired back at was only described as “a Syrian target.”
At least 2 Israeli Cabinet Ministers have warned Syrian President Assad to keep his forces out of the buffer zone, one directly to the public, the other more discreetly to his Russian opposite number.
On Wednesday, the Israeli-Russian conversation about Syria will continue in a face to face meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.
It’s been reported, the pro-government ground forces advancing towards the buffer zone and the Golan Heights is commanded by an officer from Hezbollah, and there are many Hezbollah fighters involved. Iranians are also involved in the attack, but it’s been reported, in much smaller numbers.
Netanyahu has said the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah forces so close to the Israeli border is unacceptable. But Netanyahu is also expected to argue that the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters anywhere in Syria is dangerous, and against the interests of Russia and Israel.
Back in May, when Israel staged a short series of air attacks on Iranian and Hezbollah positions in Syria, Russia did little more than ask both sides to calm down. Would Putin’s disengaged policy cover more extensive Israeli attacks to force the Iranians and Lebanese to leave Syria? Getting an answer to this question may be at the heart of Netanyahu’s mission to Moscow.
In Washington, Israel Defense Forces chief Gadi Eisenkot met with his American opposite number, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to talk about the Syrian Government offensive in Southwest Syria and “Iranian military entrenchment in the region.”
The General came to Washington. His boss, the Prime Minister is going to Moscow. Is there a message here?
Josef Federman has been the Associated Press Bureau Chief in Jerusalem since 2014.
Federman had written about and helped direct coverage of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in his previous role as Jerusalem news editor.
Federman joined the AP as an editor on the international desk in New York in 1993, transferred to Charleston, West Virginia, the following year and returned to the international desk in 1995.
A native of Westborough, Massachusetts, Federman worked as an editor at The Wall Street Journal from 2000 to 2003 before returning to AP as a correspondent in the Jerusalem bureau. He was named news editor in 2006.
Federman has been a chairman of the local Foreign Press Association, an organization that promotes press freedom and safety in Israel and the Palestinian areas. He also has covered assignments in Rome, the Hague, the United Nations, Washington and Cairo and has appeared on U.S. and Israeli media.