Syr­ian Sell­out

US-Rus­sia deal gives Iran just what it wants


PRES­I­DENT Trump’s de­ci­sion to reeval­u­ate the nu­clear deal was a step for­ward for the West’s ef­forts to con­tain Iran, but the White House took two steps back with its new deal with Rus­sia over Syria.

The deal, also signed by Jor­dan, re­mark­ably re­sem­bles the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Mideast deals that Trump (rightly) crit­i­cized so harshly dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. And sure enough, just like the nu­clear deal with Iran and the deal with Rus­sia on Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons, this new pact strength­ens Iran — de­spite Wash­ing­ton’s as­sur­ances oth­er­wise.

One part of the deal, meant to reach a long-last­ing cease­fire in south­ern Syria, stresses the need for the “re­duc­tion, and ul­ti­mate elim­i­na­tion, of for­eign forces and for­eign fighters from the area.” Spokes­men for Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who ne­go­ti­ated it with his Krem­lin coun­ter­part Sergey Lavrov, in­di­cate that pas­sage is meant to re­move Iran and its proxy fighters from Syria. But does it? Lavrov said Tues­day that Moscow never promised any­thing like that. The Ira­nian pres­ence in Syria is “le­git­i­mate,” Lavrov said. The only un­wanted out­siders are “var­i­ous for­eign ter­ror­ists, mil­i­tants who are at­tached to those groups of armed op­po­si­tion that the US sup­ports.”

Oops. A Mideast deal with Rus­sia is fall­ing apart be­fore the ink is dry.

Just like that No­bel-wor­thy 2013 pact to rid Syria of chem­i­cal weapons. Since then, there were so many deadly chem­i­cal at­tacks in Syria that now Moscow and Wash­ing­ton can’t even agree on how to mon­i­tor them.

And just like the 2015 pact known as the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion, os­ten­si­bly aimed at halt­ing Iran’s nu­clear progress (while al­low­ing it to de­velop nu­clear-ca­pa­ble mis­siles and in­ten­sify its re­search and ura­nium en­rich­ment). Now even some of Trump’s op­po­nents agree on the need to fix it, but Rus­sia says, Hey, a deal’s a deal.

Why even sign Mideast deals with Rus­sia when it doesn’t share our goals there?

Moscow doesn’t mind Ira­nian ad­vances. Hezbol­lah and other Ira­nian-backed mili­tias were very help­ful in Syria, se­cur­ing the Krem­lin’s top goal of keep­ing the butcher Bashar al-As­sad in power. For its trouble, Iran has won a large mea­sure of con­trol over the fu­ture of Syria, just as it con­trols neigh­bor­ing Le­banon.

Tehran is set­ting up Syr­ian and Le­banese mis­sile fac­to­ries. As the BBC re­ported over the week­end, it’s now also build­ing a per­ma­nent Syr­ian mil­i­tary base, lo­cated just south of Da­m­as­cus and merely 30 miles from the Is­raeli side of the Golan Heights.

And the new US-Rus­sia deal, ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli sources, would put Hezbol­lah fighters in Syria in spit­ting dis­tance of Is­raeli po­si­tions.

No won­der Jerusalem is ner­vous. Is­rael isn’t a party to the US-Rus­sia deal, as Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu noted Mon­day, adding he “in­formed our friends in Wash­ing­ton and our friends in Moscow that we will op­er­ate” in Syria “in ac­cor­dance with our se­cu­rity needs.”

Trans­la­tion: The Is­rael De­fense Forces will con­tinue to forcibly pre­vent Iran and Hezbol­lah from cre­at­ing a beach­head near its Syr­ian bor­der. Ne­tanyahu has long drawn a red line around such a pres­ence, and the IDF has strictly en­forced it.

It’ll con­tinue to do so, but diplo­matic le­git­imiza­tion of Hezbol­lah and Iran’s pres­ence in Syria couldn’t come at a worse mo­ment for Is­rael.

This week the IDF re­de­ployed Iron Dome anti-mis­sile sys­tems in the south, as Ira­nian Gaza proxy group Pales­tinian Is­lamic Ji­had threat­ens a new war. At the same time, a tense po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Le­banon may add an in­cen­tive for Hezbol­lah to at­tack as well.

The Saudis, who have in­sti­gated the lat­est cri­sis in a some­what clumsy at­tempt to free Le­banon from Iran, are al­ready be­gin­ning to siphon funds from Le­banese banks, the coun­try’s most im­por­tant eco­nomic life­line. Mean­while, even some of Hezbol­lah’s sup­port­ers won­der why the group should con­tinue to bleed in Syria when the main en­emy was al­ways sup­posed to be Is­rael.

With all that, and with the Syr­ian wars wind­ing down and Iran’s con­fi­dence ris­ing, Tehran, or one of its af­fil­i­ates, may be tempted to turn on Is­rael next. A new le­git­i­ma­tion for the Iran-led coali­tion in Syria, signed off by Amer­ica no less, can only make the sit­u­a­tion more com­bustible.

In other words, Trump has just signed a pact that in many ways re­sem­bles the “worst deal ever,” as he of­ten calls the JCPOA and other Obama deals. True, we must have some con­ti­nu­ity in for­eign pol­icy, but this?

Past as pro­logue? An aban­doned tank from the 1973 Is­rael-Syria war.

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