Putin plays a double game


Fiamma Nirenstein

Russia seems to be playing a very complicated game after one of its intelligence-gathering planes was inadvertently shot down by a missile launched by its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad. In the aftermath of the crash, Russian officials declared, despite evidence to the contrary, that Israel was indirectly to blame for the crash.

The crisis is still in progress, but like a nightmare that comes true, Israel is drawn into a conflict with the Russian bear. It’s not a coincidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met Russian President Vladimir Putin three times since 2015—the year in which Russia decided come to Assad’s defense in Syria, along with the Iranians and Hezbollah, in order to avoid a situation that could eventually lead them to an undesired confrontation.

So now, in order to get out of this trouble, Putin—who up to this point hasn’t disappointed his allies—must realize that it’s not a good idea for him to supply Assad with the S-300 surface-to-air defense system, which shouldn’t, frankly speaking, be placed in the hands of an adventurous butcher ready to spray his own people with nerve gas. Additionally, it’s also not a good idea given the fact that Israel, who for some time was preparing for this maneuver, is less than pleased. As things stand, if there isn’t a dramatic change of events, the fact that Israel is worried means that the United States will be, too, and that tensions between America and Russia may intensify.

Putin has suffered a technical embarrassment because his own allies have shot down a plane with 15 people on board, and therefore, he now has to try and save face vis-à-vis public opinion at home and in the Middle East. For the latter, attacking the Jewish state is always fashionable and constitutes a surefire way to gain consensus.

Europe, in turn, under this unfortunate mandate of E.U. foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, has vowed to keep trying to set up a new payment system that will allow its businesses to keep trading with Iran, despite the U.S. move to re-impose sanctions on Tehran. The anti-Trump front is very popular inside the European Union; it’s one of the few things in which it can genuinely agree upon in light of the deep-seated policy differences that divide it.

But all of these interchanges have solely led to strengthening a regime that creates delusions, violence, terrorism and imperialist occupations throughout the Middle East.

Israel has already made it clear, however, that it will pursue its interests; Iran won’t be allowed on its borders. It is the country that has declared that Israel is like a rotten, dried tree destined to be annihilated, and it has now treacherously placed itself among the nations in which Iran has vowed to take “devastating revenge” against after the terrorist attack at a military parade in Ahvaz three days ago.

Netanyahu discussed the situation this week with U.S. President Donald Trump in New York during the U.N. General Assembly meeting, where the United States came down hard on Tehran. Israel will cry out again, but this time, no longer in the desert.

Iran has respected the nuclear deal, says Mogherini repeatedly. Yes, to remain itself: fierce, imperialist, cunning, and certain of its ability to frighten and seduce. Everyone, that is, apart from Israel. And now Trump as well.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Translation by Amy Rosenthal.


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