Last Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Moscow. The next day, Putin and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s senior advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, met. Per usual, Syria was a main topic of conversation in both meetings.
The Syrian Civil War is in its seventh year, and Bashar al-Assad is growing stronger and closer to regaining control of the country, thanks to enormous support from Iran and Russia. But, of course, since Syria is in Israel’s backyard, Israel has had its own dealings with both Iran and Russia. The US, being the main supporter of Israel, has also been pulled into these dealings. So what does each country want, what roles have they played, and what should each of them be doing moving forward?
Though Syria is where all the action is taking place since the country is in such huge upheaval, it has more or less been the playground for these bigger powers. Russia is trying to solve Syria’s problems by bolstering Assad and playing the middleman between Israel and Iran in the process. Iran is throwing its weight behind Assad, but also wants to establish a permanent presence in Syria as a passageway to Hezbollah and as a way to aggravate Israel without actually starting a war. Israel is trying to stay out of the conflict while trying to keep its border safe and retaliates whenever Iran fires rockets at it. The US has stood behind Israel and recently renewed hostilities with Iran by exiting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Deal) and threatening more sanctions.
Russia has played both sides in the Israel-Iran conflict. Moscow has put itself on the same side with Tehran as they both try to prop up Assad. As Velayati told Iranian television, the Ayatollah Khamenei “values improving ties with Russia as a strategic partner” and that Russia was ready “to invest in Iran’s oil sector.” But the Kremlin has also been dealing with Israel. “Cooperation between us is a key element in preventing an escalation [of hostilities] and deterioration of the situation of one kind or another,” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said.
Israel is most concerned with keeping its border safe and getting Iran out of its backyard. “Our opinion is that Iran should leave Syria, but this isn’t something new for you,” Netanyahu told Putin. The US is concerned as well with Iran’s growing presence and persistence in Syria. But Russia has told both Israel and the US that they cannot reasonably expect Iran to withdraw all its military from Syria. In the meantime, Israel has been shooting down any rockets (usually Iran’s, sometimes Assad’s) that enter its airspace. It has also targeted several presumably Iranian military bases in Syria where the rockets were shot from. In February, Israel bombed T4, a base deep inside Syria, and then bombed it again in April. Both bombings resulted in Iranian deaths, but Iran did not retaliate. Assad shook his little fist at Israel during the February bombing by launching anti-aircraft missiles that took down an Israeli F-16. But Assad, in his frailty, will not pick a real fight with Israel, knowing how much stronger it is. Iran will also not pick a fight with Israel, yet.
Iran is as unpredictable as ever, but its main objective is to get Assad back into full power over Syria and secure a permanent military presence in Syria. This presence would allow Iran to continue arming Hezbollah in Lebanon, but Israel may also be on Iran’s mind. Will Iran launch a war on Israel from Syria? That is less sure, but Iran is doing its best to strengthen Israel’s old northern enemy Hezbollah and put a new Iranian military threat on its northeastern side in Syria.
With Israel and Iran continuing to clash in the Golan Heights and Russia playing both sides, many eyes are turning to the US to see what it will do. Will the US just let Iran and Israel continue to clash or will it continue down its path of hostility toward Iran and stop any more skirmishes with Israel? The US needs to step in between Israel and Iran if it wants the likelihood of Iran beginning a war with Israel decreased. More importantly, the US needs to coordinate with Russia, who is currently the middleman between Iran and Israel. Russia is unquestionably the driving military force in Syria right now and the uncontested power. Russia has put itself in an indispensable position because Israel knows it needs to rely on Russia to keep its borders safe, and Iran needs Russian support to resurrect Assad and survive the sanctions that the US is about to impose.
The US needs to join the middle that Russia has put itself in. Russia has worked to calm both Iran and Israel. The US needs to assure Israel of its support because a strong US voice in support of Israel might deter Iran. But if the US also worked with Russia, that might calm Iran since Russia has been on the same side with it in Syria. The US and Russia’s cooperation in regard to Syria, Israel, and Iran could be crucial to keeping hostilities under control and appease both sides.
From a Christian standpoint, why is this so important? From a moral standpoint and not just a political one, states should use diplomacy to avoid war until it becomes the last resort. Since Iran is involved in this particular case, it is especially important for Christians to be in united support against any Iranian aggression toward Israel. Iran is a harsh, Islamic regime that is actively seeking to stamp out Israeli Jews and Christians. Christians should be united in standing for Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters in Israel. Iran is not just seeking to have control in Syria and Israel. It is seeking to eradicate Israel. And there should be no Christian tolerance for Iran’s goal and ideology. The best option is therefore for the US to cooperate with Russia and stand between Israel and Iran.
Abigail Liebing is an intern at Providence and a student at Hillsdale College, pursuing a B.A. in History and a minor in Journalism.
Photo credit: President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, via Official Internet Resources of the President of Russia