Netanyahu’s Bet on the Helsinki Summit: Did it Pay off?

Prof. As’as Abdul Rahman

Since the end of the Helsinki summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, there has been much talk in the political literature about “Israel’s security” being the most important issue at the summit. The two leaders declared their commitment to Israel’s security. It was an announcement with double meanings. The first is Israel’s demand to draw Syria’s future by adhering to the 1974 agreement on disengagement of forces. This was evident in Putin’s personal statement that “the implementation of the agreement must be adopted.” The second meaning implies that Israel has been given the right to security demands with Trump saying: “Both the United States and Russia will work together to ensure Israel’s security. We both talked to Benjamin Netanyahu. Creating safety to Israel is something that Putin and I would like to see very much.”

Were it not that the Russian position was different, as I was told by highly placed Palestinian sources, it may be understood from Trump’s statement that both support Israel demarcation of the border in any political settlement with the Palestinians, in particular its demands to prevent the deployment of non-Israeli military forces in the Jordan Valley and to consider the Jordan River as its eastern border. Perhaps, also, launching a new war on the Gaza Strip on the pretext of providing security for Israelis according to the principle that is said to have been approved by the two leaders!!!

It is common knowledge that Netanyahu used the tools of influence available to the Zionist state to pressure Trump to adopt the map of Israel’s multiple interests. “Netanyahu has played a big role in convincing Trump to agree to hold the meeting with Putin in Helsinki,” said Yossi Melman the intelligence affairs journalist in the Jerusalem Post. “Even though Netanyahu will not attend the summit, his spirit will impose itself on its participants”, he added. This follows indications that during his several meetings, Netanyahu marketed himself to Putin as the main driver of the Trump movements, again according to senior Palestinian officials. Nevertheless, Russia previously called for a new “international mechanism” for mediation, stemming from an international peace conference. Netanyahu’s failure on the Palestinian level became obvious when Moscow remained committed to UN resolutions, the end of the Israeli occupation, the two-state solution and East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. This has been underscored by Putin in his remarks at the Helsinki press conference after the summit, and confirmed to me by informed Palestinian sources.

All said, the ‘presence’ of Syria in the summit was especially with regard to the Iranian role in the country. Netanyahu wants to obtain clear Russian-American support of Israel’s right to dictate its red lines in Syria, which includes: Securing the border with the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, possibly the right to respond to any “infiltration” of Israeli sovereignty on the plateau and “its right” to carry out military operations to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from building military infrastructure in border areas. Netanyahu’s confidence reached the point where he personally declared that “one of the main topics discussed at the summit was the situation in Syria, especially the Iranian military presence there.” Still, in a rather skeptical context, a study by researchers at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (Eldad Shavit, Zvi Magen, Vera Schafer, and Udi Dekel) said: “There is great doubt that the Trump-Putin summit succeeded in advancing Israel’s strategic interest, i.e. to keep the Iranian presence away from Syria”. The researchers concluded that “the overall understanding between the United States and Russia on the subject of Iran’s presence and a future settlement in Syria, including the repercussions on Israel, will be at the center of a long-term attempt by Moscow to reach a major deal between the two countries. Therefore, perhaps we are in the process of a deal to appear in the horizon that paves the way towards the restoration of relations between the two countries through an entry to establish  peace and stability in Syria and remove Iran in order to meet the requirements of Israel’s security.”

Instead of the Israeli-Palestinian ‘deal of the century’ that the Palestinian leadership prided itself on rejecting it, Haaretz newspaper spoke about potential opportunities for an Iranian ‘deal of a century’ in Syria saying “the signs of this deal are based on Russian plans for a withdrawal of Iranian forces, in return for an Israeli pledge not to harm the Syrian regime.” Under the deal, “Trump will agree to lift sanctions on Russia, in return for a demand to Russia to withdraw Iranian troops from Syria, or at least move them beyond 80 kilometers from the Israeli border, along with a large economic role for Iran (the reconstruction of Syria) in the next Syrian phase.” According to other sources, the deal includes Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria and refusal to grant the s-400 air defense systems to the country, but ensures that the Assad regime, allied to both the party and Iran, remains in power.

Indeed, until the reality of the closed bilateral talks between Trump and Putin emerges and the repercussions of the summit on the US official “institution” and “deep state” become clear, the future of all the understandings mentioned above, as well as Netanyahu’s bets will be surrounded by a big question mark.