Over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Israel to reassure his Israeli counterparts that the Russian-American deal on securing Syria’s chemical weapons was not, in any way, a troubling augur for Iran and its nuclear program.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry flew to Israel to personally brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on what he called “the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal ever.”
“We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs, because that affects all other issues, whether Iran or North Korea or others,” Kerry said after talks with Netanyahu.
Israelis have viewed the development on Syria with a “past is prologue” wariness, with many noting just last week that the American lack of internal dialogue on Syria had increased the chance of an Israeli strike on Iran, given its recent gun-shyness on Syria. As Ben Birnbaum pointed out:
The officials who order that strike may never know whether Congress would have voted down the Syria resolution and whether Obama would have acted anyways. But it doesn’t take negative answers to these questions for Israel to be concerned. The questions themselves are worrisome enough.
While Israeli officials immediately hailed the Syrian deal in the wake of Kerry’s visit, albeit cautiously, two things (or at least two things) undercut the whole shebang. The first is an unconfirmed report that 20 trucks carrying Syrian chemical weapons equipment into Iraq. Whether conjecture or not, this is not the first report claiming that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has been working to scatter his weapons across the country to complicate any efforts to locate or destroy them.
The second dispiriting piece of news is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly accepted an invitation to visit Iran, his first such visit in six years.
The announcement came on the heels of a report that Russia had agreed to sell to Iran the advanced S-300 air defense system and construct a new nuclear reactor at the Bushehr site.
For a better understanding of how this may all unravel, check out this piece by our own David Samuels, who predicted (nearly two weeks ago) that this crisis had been engineered to benefit Russia.
A worthy prize is not hard to find. While Obama was making his calculations about staying out of Syria—calculations that appear in retrospect to have been both reasonable and false—Putin was making his own calculations about the power vacuum that Obama had left behind in the Middle East. His first conclusion from studying that vacuum appears to have been that Obama wasn’t serious about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb—since that would mean involvement in another shooting war in the region. His second conclusion was that the best way to make that conclusion obvious was by crossing Obama’s “red line” in Syria—in response to which the U.S. president would probably do nothing, or next to nothing. What made the “red line” a perfect target for a provocation was that the line was never serious; it was a fig-leaf for excusing American inaction in a bloody civil war while keeping alive the president’s stated commitment to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.