Is it a given that that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s talks with President Donald Trump in Washington early next month will be all but effortless, producing an automatic shower of benefits for the Jewish state?
Israel is scrambling to adapt to a new order that is unfolding close to its northeast border, a new order that appears real but is not yet in focus in the eyes of its government, military and intelligence leaders.
It is also understood that this process is going forward at a dizzying speed in Syria, currently the central Middle East arena, where Presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to cooperate.
The British Prime Minister Theresa May picked up fast on the new power equation. After standing before the media with the US President Friday, 27 January, and declaring hopefully, “Britain and the US can once again lead the world together,” she decided to fly straight from Washington to Ankara Saturday, before returning home.
The outcome of her first meeting with President Erdogan was one of the fastest defense collaboration pacts ever negotiated for trade and the war on terror.
The British leader lost no time in getting down to brass tacks on how British military and intelligence can be integrated in the joint US-Russian-Turkish military steps for Syria. And she did so in spite of the fact that Erdogan did not exactly receive her with open arms. For her visit, he did not provide the basic courtesy of placing a British flag in the reception room in his palace.
Israel is in much the same position as the UK.
Jerusalem stayed out of military involvement in the Syrian civil war, according to a policy led by Netanyahu, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Avivi Kochavi (then Director of Military Intelligence).
It is a policy that has left Israel out of today’s decision-making loop on Syria’s future.
Toward the end of 2015, shortly after Russia embarked on its massive military intervention in the Syrian conflict, Netanyahu took steps for safeguarding Israel’s security interests by setting up a direct line with the Russian president. This turned into a military coordination mechanism between the Russian air force command in Syria and the Israeli air force, with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, and Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Israel’s Deputy Chief of Staff, in charge of the direct military link.
Any problems that could not be solved at the military level were promptly turned over to be addressed at meetings or in phone calls between Netanyahu and Putin.
In one example, the prime minister obtained an undertaking from the Russian president to keep Iranian forces and Iran’s Shiite surrogates, including the Lebanese Hezbollah terror organization, away from the Syrian-Israeli border, or allow them to use borderlands to send their operatives into Israel.
Shortly after Trump’s election victory on 8 November 2016, the spadework of his collaboration with Putin was quietly begun by their respective national security advisers: Michael Flynn in New York, and Nikiolai Platonovich Patrushev in Moscow.
Jerusalem knew what was going on, but was taken aback by the speed at which those close understandings ripened into US-Russian deals on the ground. Before Trump had finished his first week in the White House, US warplanes had escorted a Russian air strike against ISIS in Syria.
This rush of events has injected further urgency into Netanyahu's forthcoming talks with the US president.
During the second term of Obama's presidency, the Israeli leader traveled to Moscow or Sochi to sort out security problems relating to Syria. Now, suddenly, he must directly engage Donald Trump as the lead player.
Thus, when Netanyahu travels to the White House in February, he will have to address four pressing concerns. All of them relate to the rapidly changing scenario in Syria:
1. Will Washington and Moscow go through with the expulsion of Iranian forces and their proxies from Syria, including Hezbollah - and take it all the way until it is accomplished?
2. After they are gone, who will take over the areas they evacuate?
3. Will Bashar Assad stay on as president, or has his successor been nominated?
4. The most burning question of all is the level of Hezbollah's armament.
Not only must Hezbollah's forces be pushed out of Syria, it is essential to strip them of their sophisticated new weaponry, including missiles.
According to Israel’s military and security chiefs, just the opposite is happening. In recent weeks, the Lebanon group's arsenal has been upgraded to a level so that, more than ever, it is a threat to Israel’s security.
This is a lightly edited version of the original article published by DEBKAfile at http://debka.com/article/25907/Trump-Putin-deal-on-Syria-bears-on-Israel-security