This week has proven how absolutely horrific the world scene can turn when the Western governments are leaderless and not only do not have a policy but don’t even have a clue. The United States State Department has released statements explaining their expectations that Secretary of State Kerry will hold meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the ceremonies this week at the United Nations to discuss the situation in Syria, to discuss what role the United States might play towards stabilizing the situation and combatting the Islamic State. This is the end result of Washington leading from behind. The full ramifications has yet to even begin to play out as to the far reaching effects of the surrender of any leading role by the United States over the past six plus years of the Obama foreign policy. Further tokens being cashed due to the lack of American presence, let alone leadership, will be the handing of seventy-five Russian tanks from Syrian forces to Hezballah in order for the latter to form a core around which to build an armored division. These tanks will be T-55 and T-72 models which make them outdated compared with the United States Abrams or the more modern Israeli Merkava IV tanks currently deployed by the two Western militaries, but when compared to no such force these are a definitive step up towards fulfilling the Hezballah desire to field heavy armor units. Further there are plans for Russian and Iranian tank commanders to train Hezballah in the best tactics and use of these assets. This news comes fast on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting with Russian President Putin in Moscow where Netanyahu received Putin’s guarantee that Russian forces currently being deployed in Syria were there to provide a positive influence and not to alter the balance of power. This news of the gifting of heavy main battle tanks, no matter how dated, to Hezballah is not what one might call having no deleterious effects on the current balance of power.
United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, top American negotiator for the Iranian nuclear deal, was quoted according to The Associated Press on Friday that the Obama administration is ready to open a dialogue with Iran about the situation in Syria. This comes on the heels with an Administration signaling their readiness to soften their position on the requirement for Bahir al-Assad to be removed from power in any progress in ending the carnage on the ground in Syria. Additionally the Administration has fully admitted their having no priorities nor plans for addressing the Islamic State and that the United States was taking a back seat and simply providing assistance behind the clearer vision provided by Iran and Russia as to what will be the most advantageous manner in which to address the Islamic State. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly made it patently clear to America in the past that their assisting in taking the lead in fighting the Islamic State was predicated on their continued support for al-Assad and that the United States demands for his removal were a dead issue. It now appears that the Obama Administration is ready and willing to surrender on this issue and will be satisfied to once again to lead from behind.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made it clear previously stating, “The United States’ ‘obsession’ with Assad isn’t helping in the common fight against the threat from Islamic State… People put the fate of one person whom they hate above the fight against terrorism. Islamic State can go ‘very far’ unless stopped, and air strikes alone are not going to do the trick. If people continue to acquiesce with what is going on and continue to acquiesce with those who categorically refuse to start the political process until Bashar Assad disappears, then I’m not very optimistic for the future of this region…”
That is as straight a manner of stating that in Syria things will be done as benefits Russia if anything is to be done with their taking the lead. This was as definitive a ‘my way or the highway’ get ‘out of town’ reading of the riot act and exactly what can be expected from President Putin as a reaction to the complete lack of United States initiative. This lack of United States policy is a large part responsible for why Egypt and Israel have both had to meet with Russia’s Putin to receive any assurances that the plans for the Middle East were not planning on eclipsing their future and stake in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Still, this lack of leadership by the United States will leave Israel in a compromised position for as long as she remains beholden to the United States as her life raft. Perhaps it would have been wiser for Israel to have read the tea leaves and departed Obama back when doing so had advantages which are no longer in play.
The best path left for Israel is to watch the upcoming elections in the United States with great interest and care and plan for either eventuality when the results are in. It would be unwise to aggravate an already untenable and shaky situation any further and probably best to attempt to prevent any further daylight to come between the allies and hope to ride the storm out. In the meantime Prime Minister Netanyahu should prepare to defend his attitude when opposition forces within the Israeli government such as Yair Lapid make as much out of this delicate balancing act. The one advantage for Netanyahu is that the Israeli electorate more than likely trust Lapid even less than they do Bibi. The one truth is that Bibi has attached his wagon to the United States and declared his decision to ride out the remaining year and a half in order to see what makes its way into the White House starting January of 2017. Bibi is betting that closer relations will become presentable with the next administration and the Israeli public appears to be along for the ride for now. This could result in a bumpy ride and make for an interesting next election cycle in Israel. Until then it is batten down the hatches and keep on riding the storm out.
Beyond the Cusp