Photo: Getty Images
Putin. Not part of the good guys' camp
Photo: Getty Images
Ronen Bergman

Putin is part of the problem, not the solution

Op-ed: If the US continues to hesitate and fails to act with a firm hand against Russia, the Syrian crisis will intensify, the Islamic State will grow stronger and refugees will continue flooding the West.

The Herzliya Conference which was held last June included a simulation game, which imitated in its first stage the eruption of the third Lebanon war between Israel and Hezbollah.



In this early stage "Russia's representatives," led by the very persuasive Dr. Dima Adamsky as the Russian foreign minister, attempted to hold secret talks with Israel in order to get involved in the events and increase Moscow's influence in the region. Israel ("Prime Minister" Zalman Shoval, "Defense Minister" Eyal Ben-Reuven and myself as foreign minister) failed to take them seriously and refused to meet with them as the engagement with the European Union and the United States seemed more urgent.


In the second stage, according to the simulation, many bad things happen simultaneously, led by a Russian military intervention in Lebanon. When Dr. Shaul Shay, the scenario's author, was done reporting the troubling developments, I protested. I thought that the scenario was forcefully pessimistic, always choosing the most negative development in every area and completely unreasonable.


At least in terms of the Russians, I was wrong. What seemed completely delusional at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya three months ago, is becoming a reality which is almost identical to the imaginary scenario in the form of building major Russian military power in Syria. The satellite images and intelligence information prove that that Russians are planning to stay in Syria for a long time.


Sukhoi plane strikes in Syria. Putin's willingness to send his military forces to fight in Syria has raised hopes among many that the tough and determined Russians will do the enlightened world's job and destroy ISIS (Photo: AFP)
Sukhoi plane strikes in Syria. Putin's willingness to send his military forces to fight in Syria has raised hopes among many that the tough and determined Russians will do the enlightened world's job and destroy ISIS (Photo: AFP)


Our approach in the game, to ignore the Russians' desire to get involved, was also wrong. At least there we are not alone - the entire West, since the days of US President George W. Bush, has been ignoring Russian President Vladimir Putin's demands to influence what is happening in the world. Are these justified or baseless demands? Today, it doesn’t really matter. Putin is forcibly taking what has not been given to him in other ways - in Georgia, in Crimea, in Ukraine and in the deployment of Sukhoi squadrons in the skies of Damascus.


But the latest incident is different: When it came to using force in countries adjacent to Russia, the West was united in its opposition to Putin. The emergence of the Islamic State in the Middle East and the way it is perceived as an acute global threat confused the international diplomatic community. No one likes Syrian President Bashar Assad, but he lost his role as the biggest Satan in the neighborhood in favor of the Game of Thrones-style decapitators of the Islamic State.


Putin's willingness to send his own military forces to fight in Syria has raised hopes among many people that the tough and determined Russians will do the enlightened world's job and destroy the organization in the Middle East, while also countering the risk that the volunteers who have arrived to help the organization from dozens of countries in the West will return home to attack there.


In Israel too, there are those who say, "We are in favor of Putin and Assad," noting that as far as Israel is concerned, the region was calmer and safer before the civil war in Syria began.


The chaos in the region, the inability to distinguish between the good, and the bad and the question whether my enemy's enemy my friend - are some of the reasons for the hesitant and weak response of Europe and the US. It's possible that for Putin Syria will become what Afghanistan became for Leonid Brezhnev - his and his regime's political cemetery. It's possible, but in the meantime we must all reject the thoughts that Putin is part of the good guys' camp. Putin is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The more the US hesitates and fails to act with a firm hand against him, the more it will intensify the crisis.


We should remember how it all started: In response to the desire expressed by broad parts of the Syrian public for some democracy and freedom, Assad sent his army to commit a shocking genocide which, on certain days, saw more people were killed than the daily average in the European Jews' Holocaust. These people cried out for the West's help - but it did not arrive.


In the past few years, I have written many times that the lessons of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda have not been learned. Tens and hundreds of thousands were massacred in Syria while the world stood idly by. The US even refused to do the minimum - impose a no-fly zone on all of Syria so that Assad's air force won’t be able to bomb the miserable citizens, with regular or chemical weapons. The US said it was providing the rebels with profound aid, but only recently it turned out that it had hardly done a thing. The Turks and Jordanians helped the refugees, but the latter's bitterness towards the West which abandoned them turned into sympathy towards those who came to help and offered them hope - the al-Nusra Front, the local branch of ISIS.


Assad is not the cure for ISIS. He and his horrible killing spree created the organization's main basis of support. The Syrian refugees flooding the West escaped first and foremost because of what he did to them. Russia has not come to fight the terror organizations operating in Syria, but - together with Hezbollah and Iran - to make sure that Assad remains in power. The shy eye physician from Damascus has not changed - as soon as he grows stronger, he will continue the murder spree, thereby only bolstering ISIS and the waves of refugees arriving in the West.


Jews who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union say that the non-Jewish Russians (and that's a gross generalization of course) don’t want a democratic regime in their country and are looking for a 'tsar" to control them. I don’t know if this is true, but it's clear that Putin, in the image of the current tsar, will only understand the language of force. Only if the US makes it clear, including through aggressive means, that a military intervention in favor of the war criminal from Damascus is out of the question, Putin will think twice before continuing to deploy his corps in Syria.


פרסום ראשון: 10.07.15, 12:36
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