Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys a triumphant moment. Of course, he was not at the Helsinki Summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, but he certainly felt represented there.
"I think we really got a lot of good conclusions, a really good graduation for Israel," Trump told interviewer Sean Hannity immediately after the meeting. Putin, Trump said, "believes in Israel, he is a fan of Bibi, he really helps him a lot and will help him a lot, which will do us all good."
At the summit's final press conference, Putin also had a gift for him Bibi: "The situation on the Golan Heights must be in line with what it was after the 1
Officially, Netanyahu (and Trump) want all Iranian troops to be withdrawn from Syria. But no one is willing to evict the Iranians by force, which would require ground forces, and therefore a compromise is needed. Israel can live with a relatively small contingent of Iranian "advisers" stationed east of Damascus, far from its borders. That would appeal to both the US and Russia.
The Iranians of course do not want to go anywhere, and they do not intend to accept restrictions on the use of their forces. But if there is an American-Russian agreement on no-go zones for Iranian troops, they can do very little. High-ranking Israeli security officials say such a ban can be effectively enforced and scoff at the recent media coverage of the idea that large formations of Iranian troops can escape detection simply by donning Syrian uniforms.
"The Iranian army speaks Farsi, not Arabic," a senior Israeli government official told me. "We have all kinds of ways of distinguishing them from the Syrian army or Hezbollah, we really do not need a dress code."
Russia does not necessarily want all Iranian troops to leave Syria. It builds permanent facilities and ports in Syria and needs a stable regime in Damascus. Putin has no interest in serving as Assad's internal security policeman and would serve his goal of creating muscle in the immediate post-war period. If and when Bashar al-Assad gains full control of the country, he could get rid of the Iranians themselves. Arab dictators are notoriously unwilling to relinquish freedom of action to non-Arab (and in this case non-Alawite) armed forces on their territory.
Another problem that seems to be resolved, at least for the time being, is Israel's right to intervene Iran to deliver weapons through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. These strikes have been going on for a long time with American encouragement and Russian approval. There is no indication that the status quo is changing. Less than 24 hours before the Helsinki Summit, Israeli aircraft attacked an air base near the Syrian city of Aleppo. A number of Iranian employees were reportedly killed. Netanyahu would never have been able to found such a mission without trusting Putin's tacit understanding.
Of course, there is a highway from Iran to Lebanon, via Iraq and Syria. There are currently about 2,000 soldiers stationed in the US, making it virtually impossible for Iran to use it for large-scale arms smuggling. In April Trump announced that he wanted to sell these troops soon. Netanyahu considered this a serious mistake and told him
. Trump understood the news. Prior to the NATO conference in Brussels, his national security adviser John Bolton told Jonathan Karl of ABC that there had been a change in the plan. " I think the President has made it clear that we are [in Syria] until IS's territorial caliphate is eliminated and as long as the Iranian threat continues throughout the Middle East," he said.
In Brussels, Trump has made it clear to his NATO ally that he intends to hit Iran through a brutal economic war. "Your economy is collapsing," he said. "At some point they will call me and they will say" Let's make a deal, "and we'll make an agreement. "But they are feeling very painful right now."  It was a classic Trump exaggeration, but it is clear that he wants to increase the level of pain until Iran asks for negotiations or the regime collapses. This is the ultimate goal of the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.
It was Netanyahu who persuaded Trump to abandon the pact (for which he was recently recognized at a Likud party rally), and Netanyahu is encouraging his economic hard-line. Beheading of the regime in Tehran is the rationale, and the Iranian troops will automatically leave Syria.
However, this is an unproven theory: Putin may not want American success in Iran. Even if he wants, he will demand a high diplomatic price. It is also not clear that a lot of economic suffering will be enough to bring down the regime.
With Trump and Putin in rare agreements, Netanyahu will welcome the opportunity to reduce Iran's influence in Syria. It is not a substitute for the regime change that it seeks, but it will work for the time being.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or the Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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Therese Raphael at firstname.lastname@example.org