BIBI’S RETURN TO MOSCOW REFLECTS REGIONAL RE-ALIGNMENT & DECLINING U.S. ROLE IN M.E.

A True Strategic Asset: Ariel Bolstein, Israel Hayom, June 7, 2016— Israel and Russia are marking the 25th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties, and it's easy to say that the celebrations, taking place in Moscow on Tuesday, are completely justified.

Why Middle Eastern Leaders Are Talking to Putin, Not Obama: Dennis Ross, Politico, May 8, 2016 —The United States has significantly more military capability in the Middle East today than Russia—America has 35,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft; the Russians roughly 2,000 troops and, perhaps, 50 aircraft—and yet Middle Eastern leaders are making pilgrimages to Moscow to see Vladimir Putin these days, not rushing to Washington.

Russia as a Regional Power: Tod Lindberg, Weekly Standard, May 12, 2016— It's hard to look on the bright side of the dismemberment of a sovereign state by force of arms.

Russia’s Long Road to the Middle East: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2016— Every Russian schoolchild is taught about the violent death of Aleksandr Griboyedov in 1829.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

Russia Expert: Netanyahu-Putin Relations Reflect Moscow’s Push for Regional Influence, Jerusalem’s Need for Alternative to America (INTERVIEW): Ruthie Blum, Algemeiner, June 6, 2016

Russia to Return Israeli Tank Used in ’82 Battle With Syrians: Isabel Kershner, New York Times, June 5, 2016

Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Obsession: New York Times, May 19, 2016

Is Russia Readying For the Kill in Syria?: Al-Monitor, June 5, 2016

 

 

A TRUE STRATEGIC ASSET                                                               

Ariel Bolstein                                                                

Israel Hayom, June 7, 2016

 

Israel and Russia are marking the 25th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties, and it's easy to say that the celebrations, taking place in Moscow on Tuesday, are completely justified. The relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow is blossoming like never before, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin is further evidence of this.

 

The painful topic of pension benefits earned by Jews who lived in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel prior to 1992 is finally coming to a resolution. In the years that preceded the waves of immigration to Israel, Jews across the Soviet Union worked hard and accrued pension benefits, but they were forced to relinquish their Soviet citizenship upon emigration. As a result, the authorities revoked their pension rights. For over 20 years, the Soviet expats have been refused what they were owed according to any measure of morality and justice. Thus immigrants from the former Soviet Union found themselves without any savings, forced to make do with a meager government stipend.

 

Now all this is about to change. It is not customary in our parts to dole out compliments, but Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, who doggedly pursued this issue despite it often appearing hopeless, deserves a lot of credit. He helped forge the system of trust that has been built between Netanyahu and Putin, and without this trust, nothing in Moscow can be pushed forward.

 

Meanwhile, the Russian capital is hosting a giant exhibit about Israel. The location — in the opulent hall at the entrance to the Kremlin and Red Square — says it all. In this exhibit, all aspects of Israeli life are on display, from the Jewish state's remarkable agriculture to its trailblazing information technology industry and its many notable scientific breakthroughs. When I was invited to represent the Israeli position on several of the prominent current affairs shows in Russia, I learned that the Kremlin looks favorably on strengthening Israel's image as an important, significant and even prestigious diplomatic partner. And now this positive trend is even more pronounced. The Kremlin exhibit extols Israel, and the friendly coverage it receives in the Russian press means that message will reach every Russian home.

 

In conjunction with the exhibit, the two countries are also signing important agricultural cooperation agreements in the field of dairy farming, which are very profitable for Israel. Additionally, the high-quality dates grown in the Jordan Valley are being snatched up by exhibit visitors. The word "boycott" is foreign to Russia when it comes to Israel, and the BDS movement has no foothold on Russian soil.

 

Russia is among the small handful of influential powers in the world today. Any framework of mutual appreciation and respect that is built between Israel and Russia is a true strategic asset for us. This is not only about forging ties at the highest political levels, but about the immediate social and economic impact on the Israeli population as well. The pension funds that will flow into Israel will increase spending by Soviet expats and provide an economic and commercial boost. The stream of tourists from Russia is expected to grow and contribute to creating more jobs in Israel. New economic agreements will open new markets to Israeli farmers who work so hard for their livelihood.

 

There are other, less obvious boons as well. Russia's declared comprehensive ban on the export of its sophisticated and dangerous Iskander short-range ballistic missile (which several Arab countries have sought to acquire), saves our national defense budget billions of shekels in what would otherwise be invested in trying to counter that threat.

 

 

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WHY MIDDLE EASTERN LEADERS ARE TALKING

TO PUTIN, NOT OBAMA  

Dennis Ross                                                        

                    Politico, May 8, 2016

 

The United States has significantly more military capability in the Middle East today than Russia—America has 35,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft; the Russians roughly 2,000 troops and, perhaps, 50 aircraft—and yet Middle Eastern leaders are making pilgrimages to Moscow to see Vladimir Putin these days, not rushing to Washington. Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to see the Russian president, his second trip to Russia since last fall, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia is planning a trip soon. Egypt’s president and other Middle Eastern leaders have also made the trek to see Putin.

 

Why is this happening, and why on my trips to the region am I hearing that Arabs and Israelis have pretty much given up on President Barack Obama? Because perceptions matter more than mere power: The Russians are seen as willing to use power to affect the balance of power in the region, and we are not.

 

Putin’s decision to intervene militarily in Syria has secured President Bashar Assad’s position and dramatically reduced the isolation imposed on Russia after the seizure of Crimea and its continuing manipulation of the fighting in Ukraine. And Putin’s worldview is completely at odds with Obama’s. Obama believes in the use of force only in circumstances where our security and homeland might be directly threatened. His mindset justifies pre-emptive action against terrorists and doing more to fight the Islamic State. But it frames U.S. interests and the use of force to support them in very narrow terms. It reflects the president’s reading of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, and helps to explain why he has been so reluctant to do more in Syria at a time when the war has produced a humanitarian catastrophe, a refugee crisis that threatens the underpinnings of the European Union, and helped to give rise to Islamic State. And, it also explains why he thinks that Putin cannot gain—and is losing—as a result of his military intervention in Syria.

 

But in the Middle East it is Putin’s views on the uses of coercion, including force to achieve political objectives, that appears to be the norm, not the exception—and that is true for our friends as well as adversaries. The Saudis acted in Yemen in no small part because they feared the United States would impose no limits on Iranian expansion in the area, and they felt the need to draw their own lines. In the aftermath of the nuclear deal, Iran’s behavior in the region has been more aggressive, not less so, with regular Iranian forces joining the Revolutionary Guard now deployed to Syria, wider use of Shiite militias, arms smuggling into Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and ballistic missile tests.

 

Russia’s presence has not helped. The Russian military intervention turned the tide in Syria and, contrary to Obama’s view, has put the Russians in a stronger position without imposing any meaningful costs on them. Not only are they not being penalized for their Syrian intervention, but the president himself is now calling Vladimir Putin and seeking his help to pressure Assad—effectively recognizing who has leverage. Middle Eastern leaders recognize it as well and realize they need to be talking to the Russians if they are to safeguard their interests. No doubt, it would be better if the rest of the world defined the nature of power the way Obama does. It would be better if, internationally, Putin were seen to be losing. But he is not.

 

This does not mean that we are weak and Russia is strong. Objectively, Russia is declining economically and low oil prices spell increasing financial troubles—a fact that may explain, at least in part, Putin’s desire to play up Russia’s role on the world stage and his exercise of power in the Middle East. But Obama’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia did not alter the perception of American weakness and our reluctance to affect the balance of power in the region. The Arab Gulf states fear growing Iranian strength more than they fear the Islamic State—and they are convinced that the administration is ready to acquiesce in Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony. Immediately after the president’s meeting at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a journalist very well connected to Saudi leaders, wrote: “Washington cannot open up doors to Iran allowing it to threaten regional countries … while asking the afflicted countries to settle silently.”

 

As I hear on my visits to the region, Arabs and Israelis alike are looking to the next administration. They know the Russians are not a force for stability; they count on the United States to play that role. Ironically, because Obama has conveyed a reluctance to exercise American power in the region, many of our traditional partners in the area realize they may have to do more themselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing unless it drives them to act in ways that might be counterproductive. For example, had the Saudis been more confident about our readiness to counter the Iranian-backed threats in the region, would they have chosen to go to war in Yemen—a costly war that not surprisingly is very difficult to win and that has imposed a terrible price? Obama has been right to believe that the regional parties must play a larger role in fighting the Islamic State. He has, unfortunately, been wrong to believe they would do so if they thought we failed to see the bigger threat they saw and they doubted our credibility.

 

Indeed, so long as they question American reliability, there will be limits to how much they will expose themselves—whether in fighting the Islamic State, not responding to Russian entreaties, or even thinking about assuming a role of greater responsibility for Palestinian compromises on making peace with Israel. To take advantage of their recognition that they may need to run more risks and assume more responsibility in the region, they will want to know that America’s word is good and there will be no more “red lines” declared but unfulfilled; that we see the same threats they do; and that U.S. leaders understand that power affects the landscape in the region and will not hesitate to reassert it.

 

 

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RUSSIA AS A REGIONAL POWER                                                                                             

Tod Lindberg                                                                                                        

Weekly Standard, May 12, 2016

 

It's hard to look on the bright side of the dismemberment of a sovereign state by force of arms. But because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing threat Vladimir Putin intends to pose to eastern Ukraine, the Obama administration must now face international reality free of one of its more cherished illusions: that Russia is a partner in the pursuit of commonly desired outcomes.

 

Obama scoffed mightily in his reelection debate with Mitt Romney when the GOP candidate described Russia as America’s biggest strategic challenge. Called out on the remark in light of Russia’s move on Crimea, Obama was once again dismissive of the Romney perspective. He referred to Russia as merely “a regional power,” implicitly rebuking his defeated opponent even in light of current circumstances for overstating the danger Russia poses. The president’s point dovetailed into broader Democratic criticism of hawkish Republicans for the supposed desire of the latter to revive a Cold War mentality in dealing with Russia.

 

It’s certainly true that Putin’s Russia isn’t Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. In a way, that’s Putin’s point: In its hour of dire weakness, the Soviet Union and then Russia lost an empire. There is no likelihood of a global resurgence of Russian influence and proxy contests between Moscow and Washington ranging from Central Asia to Africa to Latin America. The United States has no need to return to a Cold War footing.

 

Nevertheless, Obama’s “regional power” remark is telling. For what exactly is a regional power? Well, if the term means anything, it’s a state that wields considerable influence over its neighbors—and not influence of the “soft power” sort. A regional power gets its way with less powerful states in its region whether the other states like it or not. A regional power practices coercive diplomacy based on the preponderance of its power. It makes demands in the name of its “national interest” that impinge directly on the perceived national interests that neighboring states have—demands to which the others accede.

 

Russia’s regional power includes not just its manifestly revivified military capability but also its economic power, in the form of the reliance of its neighbors on Russia for energy resources. Moscow can turn out the lights and turn off the heat, and although this capability as such would mean little in the hands of a state just interested in enriching those lucky enough to be participants in its oil and gas sector, in the case of a state seeking to reassert its regional influence, the ability to exercise economic coercion is a serious asset as well.

 

True, its economic power is a double-edged sword: The Russian economy depends heavily on a market for its energy resources. But would anybody today rule out as unworthy of consideration the possibility that come winter 2014, Russia might credibly threaten to curtail exports in the absence of concessions?

 

Nor is the energy sector the totality of Russia’s economic power. Russia has considerable trade flows with Europe, and to the extent anyone in Europe has considered decisions about policy toward Russia in light of business interests, that too indicates the reality of Russian economic power. Such trade flows don’t amount to an element of power when the trading partners don’t see themselves as having serious conflicts over national interests. There’s no point in wasting analytical resources on consideration of the economic power of the United States over Canada. But Putin’s Russia, qua “regional power,” now demands exactly such analysis.

 

Moreover, it seems clear from Obama’s characterization that the American president understands and accepts that Russia is a regional power—with all the perks that regional power entails. The palpable disappointment in the White House and in Secretary of State John Kerry’s office over Russia’s decision to take a “19th-century” approach to international politics rather than embrace a cooperative “21st-century” perspective also entails acknowledgment that there is nothing the United States can do to prevent Russia asserting itself in this fashion. That’s what being a regional power does for you: It ensures that a much bigger but far-away power isn’t in a position to stop your exercise in self-assertion in your neighborhood.

 

Hence the initial reaction of the Obama administration to Putin’s incursion into Ukraine: to try to persuade Putin that the practice of 19th-century-style power politics, including conquest and the annexation of territory, is antithetical to Russia’s own long-term interests. In short, the United States tried to talk him out of it—and to make sure he had an “off-ramp” available should he come to his 21st-century senses. The United States also promised “consequences,” starting with economic sanctions, for Putin’s failure to adhere once more to 21st-century norms of international conduct.

 

When you are trying to talk somebody out of a course of action by purporting to explain to that individual where his true interests lie—which is to say, in aligning his behavior with your own interests, values, and preferences—you are mainly engaged in an indirect effort to restate your own commitment to your interests, values, and preferences. Our policy in light of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its threat to eastern Ukraine has had very little to do with either Russia or Ukraine and a great deal to do with the reassertion of our preference for 21st-century international norms.

 

So we have accepted Russia as a regional power that can have its way in its neighborhood. We will collect those who agree with our norms and stand together in opposition to Russian action. Maybe the sanctions will exact a toll. But their purpose is to enforce a shared sense of how a state like Russia ought to behave. There is no policy challenging Russia’s assertion of itself as a regional power, nor (yet) a policy to contest the growth of Russia’s regional power…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

                                                           

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RUSSIA’S LONG ROAD TO THE MIDDLE EAST                  

Yaroslav Trofimov                                                                                  

Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2016

 

Every Russian schoolchild is taught about the violent death of Aleksandr Griboyedov in 1829. A poet and playwright whose work is enshrined in the country’s literary canon, Griboyedov had the misfortune to be Czar Nicholas I’s ambassador to Tehran in the wake of Persia’s humiliating loss of territory to Moscow’s spreading empire. A Tehran mob, furious at the czar and his infidel representatives, stormed the embassy, slaughtering the unlucky ambassador and 36 other Russian diplomatic staff.

A century and a half later, in 1979, those events were almost replayed in Iran (as Persia is now known). When five leaders of the Iranian revolutionary students gathered in Tehran to decide which foreign embassy to target, two of them advocated seizing the Soviet legation. They were persuaded instead to overrun the U.S. embassy, creating a no less historic trauma for another world power entangled in the politics of the Middle East.

 

Russia’s long history of involvement—and warfare—in the region is largely unknown to Westerners, but it helps to explain President Vladimir Putin’s decision last fall to intervene in Syria’s civil war. Mr. Putin’s gambit on behalf of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad caught many in the West by surprise. Critics have assailed it as a miscalculated bid to replace the U.S. as the dominant outside power in the region.

 

But when viewed from Moscow, Mr. Putin’s Middle Eastern adventure looks like something very different: an overdue return to geopolitical aspirations that stretch back not only to the Soviet era but to centuries of czarist rule. “The Middle East is a way to showcase that the period of Russia’s absence from the international scene as a first-rate state has ended,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, which advises the Kremlin and other government institutions.

 

In Syria, Mr. Putin has achieved notable results. Russia has prevented the collapse of the Assad regime, which seemed imminent just a year ago. It also has positioned itself at the center of the Middle East’s diplomatic maneuvering, challenging the formerly unrivaled influence of the U.S. in the region. “Russia sent a message to the Middle East with its direct intervention in Syria: We are more serious in settling the region’s problems than the Americans are,” said Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and the country’s leading Sunni politician.

 

But today’s Russia can no longer dictate outcomes in the Middle East, as it once did in 19th-century Persia. Mr. Putin’s Syria campaign is limited by design and necessity—a modest investment by a power that can only afford to invest modestly. It is an attempt to become relevant again in a region that, historically, Russia has seen as its strategic backyard. Russia has been in contact with the Muslim world, often unhappily, for more than a millennium. In the seventh century—long before the emergence of the Slavic principalities that would eventually form the Russian state—Arab armies of the early caliphate brought Islam to Derbent, the oldest city in today’s Russian Federation.

 

Ibn Fadlan, a 10th-century Arab diplomat and traveler, described meeting early Russians while visiting Muslim towns along the Volga River. He was struck by their “perfect bodies,” their poor hygiene and their practice of burning slave girls in the ship-borne funeral pyres of dead noblemen. Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Arab globe-trotter, was less impressed: He wrote off the Russians as “an ugly and perfidious people with red hair and blue eyes.” At the time, the prince of Muscovy was a vassal of the Muslim khan of the Golden Horde, and Moscow’s coinage bore Arabic script. Only in 1480 did Muscovy become fully independent and stop paying tribute to its Muslim overlords. A few decades later, Czar Ivan the Terrible began a series of wars that destroyed the vast Muslim khanates in Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia, pushing Russia’s boundaries far to the south and east.

 

In the following centuries, Russia fought more than a dozen wars against the receding Ottoman Empire and steadily advanced into Persian-held lands. In the “Great Game” of the 19th century, Russia punched further south toward British India, gobbling up one Central Asian principality after another and almost coming to blows with the British over Afghanistan. Moscow also positioned itself as the protector of the Middle East’s Christians—many of whom, like the Russians, were Orthodox. (The current head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, alluded to this history when he recently described Russia’s military campaign in Syria as a “holy war” and called Russian troops there “Christ-loving warriors.”)…                                  

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

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On Topic Links

 

Russia Expert: Netanyahu-Putin Relations Reflect Moscow’s Push for Regional Influence, Jerusalem’s Need for Alternative to America (INTERVIEW): Ruthie Blum, Algemeiner, June 6, 2016— What distinguishes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current trip to Moscow from his previous three parleys with the Russian president is that this one will focus on the Palestinians and the future of Syria, Mideast and Russia expert Zvi Magen told The Algemeiner on Monday, explaining that the Kremlin wants increased influence in the region, and that Jerusalem needs an alternative to the United States as a guarantor of its interests.

Russia to Return Israeli Tank Used in ’82 Battle With Syrians: Isabel Kershner, New York Times, June 5, 2016—In a sign of growing cooperation, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has agreed to return to Israel a tank that was seized during a disastrous 1982 battle with Syrian forces in southern Lebanon, an episode that left three Israeli soldiers missing in action and has haunted Israel for more than 30 years.

Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Obsession: New York Times, May 19, 2016— The United States and Russia are now proposing to drop food and other emergency aid from the air if President Bashar al-Assad of Syria does not allow trucks to deliver supplies to his besieged cities.

Is Russia Readying For the Kill in Syria?: Al-Monitor, June 5, 2016—Russia may be preparing to back a renewed assault by Syrian government forces to retake Aleppo, and perhaps even Raqqa, from Jabhat al-Nusra and allied groups in the coming weeks.