Experts Warn of ‘Escalation’ Between Israel and Russia over Syria: Ariel Ben Solomon, JNS, Feb. 5, 2018 — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week did not appear to resolve the two countries’ differing objectives in Syria, and it remains unclear if the status-quo can continue.

Why Won’t Russia Support the Investigation of Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria?: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Jan. 31, 2018— In September 2013, Russia, the US, and Syria accepted a “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons.”

There Is No Peace: Editorial, Weekly Standard, Dec. 22, 2017— The Obama administration will be remembered for a number of disgraces in foreign affairs, prominent among them its terrible deal with Iran and its dithering over the war in Syria.

Reviving Old Lies to Unite a New Russia: Michael Khodarkovsky, New York Times, Jan. 11, 2018— On the night of July 16, 1918, Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, was murdered with his wife and five children in a basement in Yekaterinburg…


On Topic Links


Russia Bombs Syria Rebel Strongholds After Jet Is Shot Down: Damien Sharkov, Newsweek, Feb. 5, 2018

Israel Presses Russia to Help Contain 'Iranian Threat': Marianna Belenkaya, Al-Monitor, Feb. 2, 2018

Russia’s Eurasian Disunion: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, Feb. 5, 2018

What Russian Immigrants Can Teach Us About Jewish Identity: Matthew M. Hausman, Arutz Sheva, Jan. 18, 2018




Ariel Ben Solomon

JNS, Feb. 5, 2018


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week did not appear to resolve the two countries’ differing objectives in Syria, and it remains unclear if the status-quo can continue. Russian jets increased their attacks in Syria on Monday, days after Syrian rebels shot down one of its jets. Reported Israeli attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria and Lebanon must take into account the military presence of Russian forces in the country, which serve to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.


“Russia is trying to re-establish the Assad regime’s territorial control in Syria, secure its military bases there, demonstrate superiority of its weapons systems with an eye on increased military sales and develop its modalities of power projection to the Middle East,” Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, told JNS. The result of this increased Russian role in the region is negative for Israel, said Cohen, also the director of the Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security in Washington, D.C.


Iran and Hezbollah have taken advantage of the cover of war in Syria to try to smuggle advanced weapons through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Netanyahu said during the meeting with Putin that Iran was trying “to turn Lebanon into one big missile site — a site for manufacturing precision missiles against the state of Israel. This is something we are not prepared to tolerate.” Cohen explained that Russian air defenses based in Syria cover most of Israeli territory, severely impeding the Israeli Air Force freedom of operation. Secondly, Russia is in a much better position to collect military intelligence on Israel; and thirdly, the Russian presence in Syria makes the Levant safe for Iran, which presents a strategic and existential threat to the Jewish state. “All this puts Russia in a position of a strategic adjudicator vis-à-vis Jerusalem — allowing it to decide, to a degree, the extent of Israel’s freedom to maneuver in the region,” he said. “For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow is almost on par with Washington in terms of dictating its political [and] military agendas in the Eastern Mediterranean region,” concluded Cohen.


Anna Borshchevskaya, the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an expert on Russia’s Middle East policy, told JNS that Russia’s current objectives in Syria remain keeping Assad in power, and at the very least, maintaining a close partnership with Iran and ensuring that Moscow’s interests remain protected. Nevertheless, Russia’s objectives seemingly stand in contrast to Israel’s interests in the country, which is more focused on thwarting Iran and Hezbollah’s buildup there. As such, this could have the potential to escalate tensions between the two countries.


“It’s doubtful that Putin wants a bilateral crisis with Israel; to the contrary, good relations with Israel are important to him, but it’s also unclear how long he can keep the balancing act he’s maintained so far in terms of good relations with both Iran and Israel.” Borshchevskaya went on to add that “Israel’s interests appear to increasingly contradict Putin’s interests, and while neither side seeks a bilateral crisis, an escalation is quite possible.”


Yuri Teper, an Israeli Russia expert who until recently was a postdoctoral fellow at the Kennan Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that “allowing Israel to act in Syria hurts Russia’s omnipotent image among its allies and foes, but also works to limit the extent of these attacks against Assad’s regime.”


However, Russia also has an interest in allowing these Israeli strikes to continue, he said. First, Israel’s determination in acting in Syria when its national security is at stake means that Russia’s options are limited if it wants to avoid a direct confrontation with the Jewish state. Second, Russia’s relations with Iran are not as close as some experts and the media make it appear. Both countries are competing for power in Syria, and their goals for the region differ.


“By allowing Israel to attack Hezbollah’s strategic capabilities and infrastructure,” added Teper, “Russia is in a way putting a check on Iran’s influence and makes the Syrian regime more dependent on Russian air-force capabilities.”





Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham

BESA, Jan. 31, 2018


In September 2013, Russia, the US, and Syria accepted a “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons.” Then, in April 2014, the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created with the aim of determining possible use of toxic chemicals in Syria. Ultimately, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the OPCW and the UN was established as the centerpiece of the Security Council’s efforts to determine responsibility for the use of CW in Syria. It was founded in August 2015, largely as a result of negotiations between the US and Russia.


The need for ongoing chemical monitoring remains essential in Syria, notwithstanding the seeming defeat of ISIS and the considerable weakening of the rebels. The catch is that as long as no further employment of CW by the Syrian regime is formally confirmed, the latter can claim that it no longer possesses CW. Such stasis is desirable for both the Syrian regime and for Moscow, Assad’s patron and supposedly the responsible adult in the scenario. Following a recent CW attack by means of chlorine-loaded artillery shells dropped on East Ghouta (January 22, 2018), Secretary of State Tillerson said: “Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons, since Russia became involved in Syria. There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor.”


In January 2015, the OPCW reported that the destruction of the Syrian CW arsenal had been completed. But several subsequent chemical attacks showed that assessment to have been mistaken – particularly the employment of the sarin nerve agent by the Syrian Air Force in April 2017. The uncovering of that event, which prompted the US retaliatory raid on the Shayrat Airfield, was thus a blow for the Assad regime and for Russia, both of which desperately tried to refute the evidence. The raid showed the existence of a residual Syrian CW arsenal, the extent and locations of which are uncertain. More specifically, at least 2,000 chemical bomb shells that Syria claims it had converted to conventional weapons and either used or destroyed are unaccounted for, suggesting that they may still be in the hands of the Syrian military. The Russians are almost certainly aware (to say the least) of those weapons, as well as of other Syrian CW capacities.


In parallel, renewed production of CW by the Assad regime has been discovered in hidden sections of three sites – Masyaf, Dummar, and Barzeh – with Russian (plus Iranian) informal acknowledgment, and at times concealed support. Cyrillic letters were found on the sarin-loaded 140mm artillery rockets used by the Syrian army in the 2013 massacre; collateral military Russian involvement was traced during the 2017 sarin attack conducted by the Syrian Air Force; a resemblance to a prototype Soviet sarin-loaded KhAB-250 aerial bomb was revealed (if inconclusively); and the hospital where sarin-affected persons were treated was deliberately bombarded.


A critical mass accumulated that led Russia to foil the renewal of the JIM’s mandate. Six draft resolutions were vetoed in 2017 in the Security Council (the most since 1988), with five focused on the use of CW in Syria. Three consecutive vetoes by Russia resulted in the termination of the JIM at the end of 2017, dismantling what had been one of the rare examples of Security Council action on the Syria file. The Russian representative diplomatically stated that Moscow expected an honest, impartial, complete investigation and would accept clear, incontrovertible evidence of guilt.


Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, UK Permanent Representative to the UN, was unequivocal in his response:     “Make no mistake, the JIM has succeeded; it is Russia that has failed. They have failed in their duties as a permanent member of this Security Council, they have failed as a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, they have failed as a supposed supporter of peace in Syria. Russia vetoed a simple technical rollover of the mandate of JIM; a rollover that didn’t judge any party, that didn’t add any conditions … In negotiations, their experts made abundantly clear why they wouldn’t support the JIM’s renewal. Put simply, they cannot, or rather, they will not accept any investigation that attributes blame to their Syrian allies, no matter how robust the investigation, no matter how clear and solid the evidence … Russia once played a responsible role in securing the destruction of much of Syria’s chemical arsenal and in creating the JIM. Regrettably, today the world can see that Russian policy now is to protect the Syrian state, whatever the cost to Russia’s reputation.”


The Russian line backing Syria on CW has, in fact, been notably consistent. In January 2014, Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov held that “the Syrians are approaching the fulfillment of their obligations seriously and in good faith.” In June 2013, Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Russian Duma Committee on International Affairs, maintained that “[i]nformation about the usage of CW by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is fabricated, same as the lies about the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction.”


In saying this, Pushkov ignored what had happened ten years earlier on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Former US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for International Technology Security John Shaw contended that a wide-scale smuggling operation of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, together with related components, from Iraq to Syria took place in the weeks before the March 2003 US operation in Iraq. He detailed that the Russian “Spetsnaz” (Special Operation Forces) had organized large commercial truck convoys for CBW removal; whatever CBW was not buried in Iraq was put on those trucks and sent to the Syrian border. The goal of the clean-up was “to erase all traces of Russian involvement” in Iraqi CBW programs, and it “was a masterpiece of military camouflage and deception.”…

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





Weekly Standard, Dec. 22, 2017


The Obama administration will be remembered for a number of disgraces in foreign affairs, prominent among them its terrible deal with Iran and its dithering over the war in Syria. Deserving of a place on that list is America’s acquiescence in Russia’s attack on Ukraine, to which the Trump administration may finally be mounting a bit of resistance.


In the case of Ukraine, the United States sat by while the Russians carried out a de facto occupation of the country’s eastern territory and simply annexed the Crimean peninsula to the south. Vladimir Putin didn’t acquire these territories by conventional invasion. If he had mounted an open conquest, he might have provoked Western indignation and inspired more help for Kiev. That is not his way. In eastern Ukraine, Moscow trained and funded pro-Russian elements within the Donbas region, urged them to violence against Kiev’s authority, and sent Russian soldiers in to control the unrest they had instigated.


It worked brilliantly—thanks first to Barack Obama’s reluctance to risk any confrontation anywhere in the world, and second to Donald Trump’s double-mindedness on the subject of Russia. The ceasefire ostensibly in place was negotiated in Minsk in 2015. But as the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, Kurt Volker, made clear this week, there has been no ceasefire. “A lot of people think that this has somehow turned into a sleepy, frozen conflict, and it’s stable, and now we have Minsk agreements and there’s a ceasefire,” Volker told the Atlantic Council on December 19. “That’s completely wrong. It is a crisis.” One that worsened this year: 2017, he said, has been the most violent year since the conflict started in 2014. To date, more than 10,000 are dead as a consequence of a conflict many in the West have forgotten.


As in Syria, so in Ukraine: Russia is actively funding and inciting a proxy war on the soil of another country as Western democracies look the other way. The aim in Syria is to establish a client state; the aim in Ukraine is to grab land. In September, Putin suggested sending U.N. peacekeepers into the region but deploying them only along the line of conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces, 50 miles or more into Ukraine’s territory—thus in effect acceding to Russia’s occupation of the land east of that line. The Trump administration wisely didn’t take the bait.


There are two possibilities for progress in eastern Ukraine. The first, favored by Volker and most other foreign policy leaders, is to deploy peacekeepers throughout the disputed territory and so create the stability necessary for free and fair elections to determine whether eastern Ukraine should become the pro-Russian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. These separatist “republics” staged referendums in 2014 and proclaimed independence from Ukraine, but most serious observers regarded those votes as fraudulent. We doubt any deployment of U.N. peacekeepers can ensure a more legitimate outcome.


The other possibility is to face the reality that Ukraine is fighting a defensive war for its own territory. The United States and its allies can sell arms to Ukraine and give the struggling republic a fighting chance against Russian expansionism. If the conflict becomes sufficiently troublesome for Putin, he may back off. Of course, he may not. But he’s certain to stay if Ukraine remains largely defenseless and the West remains silent.


For three years Ukraine has begged the United States for defensive weaponry, but the Obama and Trump administrations wavered. The reasons for their indecision escape us. Russian tanks and artillery are on Ukrainian soil. Russian proxies create mayhem. Ukraine long sought NATO membership with bipartisan U.S. support. What reason could justify our refusal to aid the victim, other than to make nice with the aggressor?


For months, the Pentagon and State Department have urged the White House to sign off on a plan to supply Ukraine with weaponry to stave off what is in fact an invasion of its territory. Congress has long backed either the sale or provision of such weaponry to Kiev. This week, at last, the Trump administration approved the sale of some lethal defensive weaponry to our Ukrainian allies—sniper rifles, parts, and ammunition. There are further administrative hurdles, but initial signs suggest that the president himself has been persuaded by his secretaries of Defense and State to back Ukraine. The new policy may have been influenced by Canada’s decision, taken in November but not made public till mid-December, to approve arms sales to Ukraine. Others are likely to follow suit.


The first Cold War consisted of a great many hot wars and involved this nation in some terrible mistakes but also in some honorable victories. America won the Cold War by refusing to pretend that it wasn’t a war. If we are now in a second Cold War with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, we must again refuse to cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace.        





Michael Khodarkovsky

New York Times, Jan. 11, 2017


On the night of July 16, 1918, Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, was murdered with his wife and five children in a basement in Yekaterinburg, where they had been detained by the Bolsheviks for four months. On orders from Moscow, they were shot and bayoneted, and their mutilated bodies were set afire.


That much has been generally agreed on, based on overwhelming evidence gathered by numerous experts. Yet the Russian Orthodox Church continues to pose more questions, hinting at the darkest of conspiracies: Were the remains that were later exhumed really those of the imperial family? If not, how many were murdered, and where were they buried? Late last year, church officials added another twist with dark implications, suggesting that the execution of the Romanovs was “a ritual murder” — a phrase evoking calumnies directed against Russia’s Jews as part of their persecution in czarist times.


Now those words have come from Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, during a speech on Nov. 27 at a church-sponsored conference convened to re-examine the circumstances of the Romanovs’ murder. Sitting next to Patriarch Kirill, the head of the church, the bishop insisted that his claim was shared by many members of a committee that has been investigating the czar’s murder since 2015. A representative of the President’s Investigative Committee, the government’s top crime agency, quickly agreed to seek out more expert opinions and “to conduct a psychological and historical analysis” of the matter.


The incident could have been dismissed as a fantasy from some anti-Semitic members of the church who have close links to ultraright Russian groups. But Bishop Tikhon is no ordinary churchman. Besides being a top aide of Patriarch Kirill, he is widely thought to be a spiritual adviser to President Vladimir V. Putin. And the suggestion of a ritual murder is so laden with traditional anti-Semitism that the next day, the spokesman for the Federation of Russia’s Jewish Communities, Borukh Gorin, said it was reminiscent of “the darkest ages.”


Many Russians, especially among radical nationalist groups, accept the charge of ritual murder as part of a vicious conspiracy theory: that rather than a Bolshevik crime, the Romanovs’ murder was the product of a Judeo-Masonic plot to sacrifice the czar’s family in a religious ritual intended to symbolize a murder of the Russian people. The accusation of ritual murder, of course, has a much longer history. In the violent anti-Semitism that pervaded the czarist empire, the murder of a Christian child in murky circumstances would typically be attributed to Jews, who were falsely accused of needing the blood of a child for religious rituals — the infamous “blood libel.”


Such pernicious lies helped provoke particularly brutal eruptions against Jews in Russia, making the word “pogrom” part of a gruesome universal vocabulary. One of the most notorious pogroms broke out in Kishinev (now Chisinau, Moldova) on the Easter Sunday of April 17, 1903, after anti-Semitic groups accused Jews there of committing a “ritual murder.” For two days, the authorities did nothing to stop the rampage of a drunken mob; 49 Jews were killed, over 500 wounded and an unknown number of women raped.


Three weeks later, Russia’s great writer and humanist Leo Tolstoy accused the Russian government of relying on lies and violence. The United States State Department and the British Foreign Office sent notes of protest, and President Theodore Roosevelt personally chastised Czar Nicholas. But Nicholas stayed silent even when waves of pogroms continued, claiming the lives of more than 2,000 Jews between 1903 and 1905. Tens of thousands of Russian Jews fled, mostly to the United States or to Ottoman-controlled Palestine…

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




On Topic Links


Russia Bombs Syria Rebel Strongholds After Jet Is Shot Down: Damien Sharkov, Newsweek, Feb. 5, 2018—Russia has stepped up its bombardment of rebel-held towns and cities in Syria after a Russian warplane was shot down and its pilot died after ejecting and trading fire with militants.

Israel Presses Russia to Help Contain 'Iranian Threat': Marianna Belenkaya, Al-Monitor, Feb. 2, 2018—Russian President Vladimir Putin has been rather mum on aspects of his meeting this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the latter has made it clear they discussed concerns about Iran's bold actions in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular.

Russia’s Eurasian Disunion: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, Feb. 5, 2018—The Eurasian Union was created in early 2015, but the idea was hardly new. Since its inception as a veritable regional power in the 16th century hinterland, Russia has always worked to attract and dominate its smaller neighbors, which were hard pressed by other powers such as the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Austria-Hungary.

What Russian Immigrants Can Teach Us About Jewish Identity: Matthew M. Hausman, Arutz Sheva, Jan. 18, 2018—Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was criticized a few months ago for opining that American Jews live “comfortable” lives and don’t know what it’s like to live under constant threat of attack, though she also acknowledged the continuing bond between them and their Israeli cousins.