Sovereignty, in some cases, but don’t take the word too seriously

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Mazhar Al-Shereidah

“Great Powers draw realities on the ground… the rest follows”, that was the title of a Petroanalysis editorial on April 26th 2018 where we discussed the Syrian question.

Some people tend to believe that politics at present are quite different from what they used to be a century ago, because they reflect all the progress achieved on the international arena to guarantee a more democratic, participative, equalitarian set of principles that reflect more advanced moral standards and a real respect for ethics and the sovereignty of people as well as nations and countries. Yet, a thorough examination of some concrete cases lead to a less optimistic conclusion. Things stand where they used to be at the early years of the twentieth century, as one looks at Syria as an example.

The fate of Syria at this moment is under discussion, unfortunately not by its own people but by foreign players and not on its soil but mainly in Washington, Moscow, Ankara, Teheran, Tel Aviv, Geneva, Astana…

Just as the Petroanalysis team was about to discuss today’s complex attitudes and conflicts, we were joined by our old storyteller, who instead of narrating things from the past, brought with him a set of cuttings from newspapers. He suggested that we take whatever we consider as useful to better understand the situation, although before leaving, he pronounced a few words, somewhat disturbing… An Auction for the World’s Leadership and added a very short introduction.

The world still recalls the around-two-centuries-old Open Door issue – perhaps one of the earliest successful US engagements in the Far East. It faced not only China, but also Great Britain with regard to the promotion of its exports and the privileges for its citizens. In fact, the then leading European powers had imposed since the XVlth century an even more expansionist principle over the Ottoman Empire, that of Capitulations… Now it is not that different. Just read the following, step by step and you can find out how coordination works in a win-win formula. Yes, for the players, NOT for the country subject to the game.

September 21st 2015, Maria Tsvetkova, (Reuters), OVO-OGARYOVO. Israel, Russia to coordinate military action on Syria: Netanyahu

Recent Russian reinforcements for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which regional sources say include warplanes and anti-aircraft systems, worry Israel, whose jets have on occasion bombed the neighboring Arab country to foil suspected handovers of advanced arms to Assad’s Lebanese guerrilla ally Hezbollah.

In earlier remarks as he welcomed Netanyahu to the presidential residence of Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, Putin said Russian actions in the Middle East would always be “responsible”. Putin, who shares Western concern about the spread of Islamic State influence, has pledged to continue military support for Assad, Russia has been focusing forces on Syria’s coast, where Moscow keeps a big Mediterranean naval base.

The United States, which along with its allies has been flying missions against Islamic State insurgents in Syria, has also been holding so-called “deconfliction” talks with Russia.

Separately, U.S. officials said Russia had started flying surveillance missions with drone aircraft in Syria in what appeared to be Moscow’s first air operations there since beginning its build-up.

Netanyahu said he had come with the goal of “prevent[ing] misunderstandings between IDF (Israel Defense Force) units and Russian forces” in Syria. Underlining the importance of Netanyahu’s one-day visit to Moscow, Israel’s premier took along the chief of its armed forces and the general in charge of Israeli military intelligence.

“Our policy is to do everything to stop weapons from being sent to Hezbollah,” Netanyahu told Putin at their photo-op. He also set out Israel’s policy of striking at guerrillas suspected of preparing to attack it from the Syrian Golan, on the northern frontier – an apparent signal to Russia to steer clear there.

Israel and Russia agreed to coordinate military actions over Syria in order to avoid accidentally trading fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to Moscow and “agreed on a mechanism to prevent such misunderstandings”.


Netanyahu said that he had informed the Americans “on each and every detail” of his Moscow visit, adding: “Everyone has an interest in avoiding an unnecessary clash” over Syria.

A U.S. official told Reuters that U.S.-Israeli coordination allowed the allies to share classified technologies for identifying Russian aircraft over Syria: “We know how to spot them clearly and quickly,” the official said.

A former Netanyahu adviser said Israel was concerned that Russia’s help for Assad in battling an insurgency now in its fifth year could create a de facto axis between Moscow, Iran and Hezbollah.

The former Netanyahu adviser said any understandings reached with Putin “could come down to Israel and Russia agreeing to limit themselves to defined areas of operation in Syria, or even that they fly at daytime and we fly at night”.

The storyteller found this a candid expression. With admiration he almost shouted, this is what I call real and perfect application of the Three Musketeers spirit. One for all and all for one.

But after all, human failures can happen as they did indeed, and of course, Moscow was angry.

September 18th 2018 (Reuters)

Russian defense minister spoke to Israeli counterpart over plane incident

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to his Israeli opposite number, Avigdor Lieberman, and told him Moscow holds Israel wholly to blame for the shooting down of a Russian military plane near Syria .

The aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems but Moscow said Israeli air force jets flying in the same area put the Russian plane in the line of fire.

On 23rd September 2018, it was described as a “criminal negligence” or disregard to Russia-Israel ties, the Russian defense ministry said. The Il-20 downing shows Israel’s culpability and either its military bosses’ lack of appreciation of relations with Moscow, or their control of commanding officers.

“We believe that the blame for the Russian Il-20 aircraft tragedy lies entirely with the Israeli Air Force,” said spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov, before revealing a detailed account of events leading to the downing of the Russian Il-20 military aircraft on September 17. The plane was shot down by the Syrian air defense units as Israel’s F-16s effectively used it as a cover during the attack on its neighbor.

The report featured previously undisclosed radar data and details of communications between Russian and Israeli militaries, and concluded that “the military leadership of Israel either has no appreciation for the level of relations with Russia, or has no control over individual commands or commanding officers who understood that their actions would lead to tragedy.”

Misinformation and “criminal negligence”

On the evening of September 17th, the Russian Ilyushin IL-20 with 15 crew on board was circling over the Idlib de-escalation zone on a special reconnaissance mission, when four Israeli F-16 fighter jets left their country’s airspace and flew over the neutral Mediterranean waters towards the Syrian coast. The Israeli Air Force gave the Russian side less than a minute’s warning before dropping the precision-guided glide bombs, leaving virtually no time for any safety maneuvers, Konashenkov said, calling such actions “a clear violation of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements.”

The misinformation prompted the Russian Command to order the recon plane back to the Khmeimim air base.

The actions of the Israeli fighter pilots, which led to the loss of life of 15 Russian servicemen, either lacked professionalism or were an act of criminal negligence, to say the least.

Israel “crossed the line of civilized relations” with “ungrateful response”

Israel’s negligent behavior amounts to a flagrant violation of the very spirit of cooperation between the countries, Konashenkov stated, noting that Russia has never broken its commitment to the deconfliction agreement – it has always informed Israel about their missions in advance and has never used its air defense capabilities against the Israelis, even though their airstrikes sometimes put the Russian servicemen in danger.

The storyteller is particularly impressed by the Russian ability to keep everyone happy, the US, Israel, Iran and finally Syria. Just read. It sounds like unfair treatment between lovers – it is touching…

Russia has sent as many as 310 notifications to the Israeli Air Force Command, while the latter appeared to be reluctant to show the same level of commitment, notifying only 25 times even though its jets carried out more than 200 strikes against targets located in Syria over the past 18 months alone, Konashenkov said.

“This is an extremely ungrateful response to all that has been done by the Russian Federation for Israel and the Israeli people recently,” The Russian military supported the Syrian military operation in the Golan Heights to “ensure there were no shelling attacks on Israeli territory” anymore.

Russia also managed to secure the withdrawal of all Iran-backed groups from the Golan Heights to a “safe distance for Israel,” more than 140 kilometers to the east of Syria, the spokesperson said, adding that this was done at the request of Tel Aviv. “A total of 1,050 personnel, 24 MLRSs and tactical missiles, as well as 145 pieces of other munitions and military equipment were withdrawn from the area,” Konashenkov said. In view of the above, the hostile actions committed by the Israeli Air Force against the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft cross the line of civilized relations.

And one has to agree with the Russian version. Without Moscow’s complicity, Israel wouldn’t have been able to make such a victorious announcement.

13th January 2019, The New York Times.

“We struck thousands of targets”: IDF chief of staff on Israel’s “near-daily” strikes in Syria.

The outgoing chief of staff just openly confessed to running a large-scale bombing campaign in its neighbor’s territory. In 2018 alone, Israel dropped around 2,000 bombs on alleged Iran-linked targets, Gadi Eisenkot told the New York Times in his final interview as chief of staff of the IDF before he retires next week.

“We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit,” Eisenkot stated, confessing to carrying out strikes on a “near-daily” basis.

Israel has been bombing Syria on a “near-daily” basis for years, in a massive military campaign allegedly aimed at degrading Tehran’s supposed military buildup in the region.

Netanyahu confirmed that the IDF has “succeeded impressively in stopping Iran’s military build-up in Syria, and in this context, the IDF has attacked hundreds of times Iranian and Hezbollah targets.” While the Syrian government repeatedly accuses the Jewish state of constantly violating its sovereignty, Eisenkot claimed the Israeli actions are justified – and that, anyway, neither Damascus nor Tehran can do anything about it. We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.

The old man said that perhaps Mr. Trump took this fact in consideration when he decided to move his military forces out of Syria and back into Iraq.

Time will tell….

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