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Why Israel has the biggest victory in Helsinki



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

974 Accord [separation of forces]," he said. That's exactly what Netanyahu asked when they met a few days before the summit in Moscow. It means a complete ceasefire along the Israeli-Syrian border and no foreign troops nearby.

Officially, Netanyahu (and Trump) want all Iranian troops to be withdrawn from Syria.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.


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