A poster with a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) and the leader of the Lebanese "Hezbollah" Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
A few days ago in Israel a conference organized by the Research Institute of National Security took place. The participants, Israel’s Chief of Staff, as well as the Defense Minister of Israel, agreed that the main enemy of the Jewish state is not Daesh but Iran, as a major threat at the moment is its attempt to gain a foothold in Syria in alliance with Hezbollah.
According to the analyst Avraham Shmulevich, a rabbi and president of the Institute of the Eastern Partnership (Jerusalem), in the recent decades Hezbollah has built a very efficient structure with the help of Iran, and is armed with up to a hundred thousand missiles. Hezbollah is one of Iran’s official army units. According to the analyst, one of the main reasons why Iran supports Assad is to prevent a disconnection between him and Hezbollah, as the connection currently goes through Syria with the connivance of the authorities.
“Iran has the power to establish its hegemony in the Shia world, and now seeks to create a Shiite belt of countries under its protectorate from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea,” the analyst said.
Meanwhile, experts differ in their opinions regarding the Russian-Iranian alliance. Analysts from the Belorusian Institute for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies think that Moscow is not cooperating with Tehran, but rather provoking instability in the Middle East, and is ready to support all parties in the conflict in this quest. However, Avraham Shmulevich believes otherwise.
“First, we do not see any real steps on Russia’s part to promote the replacement of Bashar al-Assad to a figure more acceptable in the West. Of course, Assad is not a ‘sacred cow,’ but even if Russia agrees to replace him, it is only under condition of saving the current Syrian regime. As the Turkish leadership said, Russia is planning to set up a puppet state in the Alawite province of Latakia, which would be completely loyal to Iran and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Moscow is both a military and economic ally of Iran. The Kremlin recently credited Tehran with a loan of five billion dollars, and according to the most recent information, Russian officers cooperate directly with Hezbollah, delivering arms. Russian aviation coordinate their flights directly with the militants of Hezbollah, the Russian instructors teach its members, that is, we can say they have formed a kind of ‘Combat Brotherhood’,” the expert said.
By the way, just last November, Mihail Bogdanov, special envoy of the Russian President for the Middle East, said that Russia does not consider nor intends to consider Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. Also, recently Brigadier General Moni Katz, former commander of IDF Galil regimen wrote in an article for the Washington Institute for Middle East Studies that the Lebanese group Hezbollah significantly strengthened its offensive capabilities as a result of joint action with the Russians in Syria.
According to Avraham Shmulevich, Iranian troops, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Assad troops operate in close alliance, and Russia actively supports this alliance, guided by not the most logical motives.
“You have to understand that Russia is a fairly irrational country. A normal state is committed to the economic well-being and prosperity of its citizens, but dictators have different logic. I assume that Putin and his followers can really like the very fact that their aircraft every day kill people somewhere. Such dictators perceive warfare outside its territory as a sign of a great power. In addition, Putin seems to actually believe in a confrontation with the United States, and he cannot allow Americans to enter territories he thought theoretically might be occupied by his troops. Meanwhile, all this does not exclude a financial interest. It is known that in the ‘90s Arabs paid very good money for such co-operation with the Russians, including big paychecks sent directly to individual deputies of the State Duma. The financial interest also includes rollbacks, obtained from the military deals with Iran,” the expert said.
Summarizing all of the above, Shmulevich indicates that the air force protection that Russia provides to Hezbollah, as well as the supply of arms and trainers, air support, etc. significantly strengthen Arab terrorists.
“At the moment, in fact, a Shiite coalition has formed. Shiites in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria (Bashar Assad) form a united front which Russia joined. At the moment it is not its main party, but I think that Iran will do everything possible to bolster Russia’s involvement in the war. If this happens, such involvement would inevitably lead to deterioration of relations between Russia and Israel, since the growing ‘Shiite axis’ is perceived as a direct threat to Israel’s security,” the expert concluded.
Many analysts, especially Ukrainian ones, consider lifting international sanctions from Iran in exchange for giving up its nuclear program that took place on January 16 to be rather good news for Ukraine, since it leads to further oversaturation of the oil market and therefore decreasing oil prices, which would further weaken the aggressor, namely Russia.
However, according to Shmulevich, there may be more negative consequences of this decision than may seem at first glance.
“I do not believe that Iran’s nuclear program will be phased out. Tehran would suspend it temporarily, since it needs money for its development. Now, after the lifting of sanctions, it will have access to about USD 50 bn that were frozen in its accounts. Moreover, it will get access to various credit programs and modern weapons. So, Iran will return to its nuclear program as soon as it pumps up its muscles. Oil prices already were falling all last year and a half, reaching $30 per barrel, before sanctions against Iran were lifted. Also, Russia’s economy is already in a state of profound crisis. At the same time, Putin destroyed the market for Russian gas with his own hands. In these circumstances, I see no logic in lifting sanctions, which entails a very serious risk of arming Iran in the near future with nuclear weapons, which will increase instability in the Middle East even more,” Shmulevich warns.