tv Russian Involvement in the Middle East - Relations with Israel Iran CSPAN August 1, 2018 1:36am-2:54am EDT
atmospheric research. that is still a big program out here. >> a tour of fort selden comic a military outpost located near the rio grande, established to keep he's in the region. watch the cities tour of las cruces, new mexico saturday at noon eastern on c-span two's book tv and the sunday on american history tv on c-span3. working with our cable affiliates as we explore america. >> now we take you to the carnegie endowment in washington for a look at russia's involvement in the middle east. first, a panel on russia's relationship with israel and iran, as well as a panel on russia's use of private military companies in syria. posted by the jamestown foundation, this is about two hours.
glen: ok, everyone. let's go ahead and get seated. we're going to get started. my name is glen howard. i'm president of the jamestown foundation here in washington, d.c. we are delighted you are here today, able to join us for the wonderful discussions we're having. the title of the conference we are having is "russia and the middle east," organizing a -- we have been undergoing a project on the middle east for the past year, organizing a series of workshops and papers that have been coordinated and organized by dr. stephen blank assic, who have helped us put together this conference today. moscow is balking the -- backing the assad regime and piecing together as the u.s. regroups and assesses strategy.
in the past year, we have seen tremendous tension from every angle building around syria over u.s. support for kurdish forces and the deepening tension between the syrian government and military forces every taken territory in the south. how russia balances the developments while backing the regimeegime -- assad will test putin's strategy. our first panel will discuss how russia balances its relationship as the u.s. increasingly removes itself from the scene, eager to avoid becoming bogged down in the conflict. this will involve our morning discussion and later on, we will move on to several different conversations. at noon, we have the great honor of having a retired general sharing his thoughts and assessments and u.s. efforts to de-conflict and avoid confrontation over syrian airspace. this will be a very interesting
and enlightening presentation. the general is a retired four-star general and commander of air forces in europe and has a very interesting perspective on the region. we will get started today and for those joining the twitter conversation, you can tweak us at jamestown tweets. we are also being broadcast live on c-span. we welcome the c-span followers today. i'll turn the floor over to michael, who is chairing and moderating the first panel here. michael is a senior fellow at the jamestown foundation. michael: thank you, glen. i understand my role is to direct questions and break up fights, so i will do that with vigor. the other part, the commentator, i think you want to listen to our illustrious panel members, so i will limit my comments, except for an initial comment with three takeaways.
my background is in the middle east. that is what i studied. i wanted to say something about the levant. substrate of the conversation we will have in this panel. the first is syria was responsible for some of the origins of jihadi salafism. the ideology of al qaeda and isis and other jihadists in the middle east. they were part of the religious aspect of that and also provided an insurrection under the muslim brotherhood that served as its point for original al qaeda about how not to do and -- to do insurrection. they were handily defeated in syria by 1982. the second thing is, i think, there is somewhat of a consensus
that al qaeda, isis, no matter what they are called, will be around for yet a while. maybe as long as another generation. the third, i will go out with the point that i can't substantiate, but i believe is that we will have another insurrection because there is a lot of bitterness and you have both the ideology and the men under arms to do it again. having said that, i would direct you to your materials to read the long and rather illustrious background of our panel members, but we will start off with a -- stephen blank, a senior fellow at the american foreign policy council and many other things to talk about russia's intersection with this issue. michael is a director of military security studies program, and i must say many other things which you will find in the biography, and a
nonresident senior fellow, security for the atlantic council and many other issues as well. so if we can start with dr. blank. dr. blank: thank you, michael. thank you, glen. ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be here and talk about how russia sees this triangle. iran, israel, syria. i would argue russia sees itself as being in a fortunate strategic position but tactically rather delicate position that it has to maneuver among these three points of the triangle, if you like, but it also is strategically fortunate in that it alone is able to talk to everyone in this configuration in a frank and direct manner without rupturing ties irrevocably. that is attributed to russian diplomacy and strategy in the
middle east, which has been to establish durable contacts and partnerships, working partnerships if you like with everybody without getting bogged down in supporting one side or the other in the conflicts, because the united states does not talk to a side or iran. russia can talk to israel as well as it talks to assad and the government in tehran. have to keep in mind because -- again, that signifies a major russian victory and it is something we have to keep in mind because syria is not the only place in the middle east. moscow is increasingly active across the middle east and what it does in syria, and the people of moscow know this, is going to have reverberations across the entire region. today, moscow holds the balance between iran and israel. it is endeavoring to tactically to wind up the war, finish the military victory, which is almost complete, and create the basis for a durable political
order in syria whereby assad will rule the country, perhaps with a modified constitution, but with substantial russian presence and iranian presence in syria, but not a presence that antagonizes israel to the point where israel feels it has to go to war or undertake military strikes against iran, because russia does not want to see another israeli-arab war or israel-iran war for many reasons. first of all, i think it would -- iran would lose if it is in syria. secondly, they are afraid in the war involving israel will bring back the u.s. military to the area and undo everything they worked on in the last either -- five to seven years. third, it puts the future of assad's government at risk. fourth, moscow does not have the a long-termtain
operation against israel and the united states in the middle east and doesn't want to do so. it would much rather be exploiting conflicts rather than having to stand on the sidelines or be dragged into somebody else's conflict, and the exploitation of conflicts or of fishers or regional cleavages is the essence of russian foreign policy in many areas of the world and is part of a deliberate strategy to create regional bipolarity forcing the united states to treat russia as an equal in order to create global multipolarity where russia is an equal to the united states. we have to understand that russia is not playing a strictly regional game. it is playing a global game. it sees itself as a global superpower. it is using the middle east, as i will show, in order to
leverage other kinds of presence of forced the west, not just the united states, to accept it on its own terms. with regard to iran and israel, moscow fully understands that israel will not try to undermine .ssad that israel is not anti-russian as israeli interest go, but it is determined not to have iran threaten its vital interests. the problem is that for iran, assad ruling over all of syria and allowing massive iranian presence and providing a landline from iran to the mediterranean through lebanon, to support hezbollah and other terrorists is a vital interest hran, asgovernment in te well. therefore, moscow moscow is trying to forge an equilibrium between iran so that iran can get much of what it wants. will rule syria.
israel has signed off on this. statesink the united has, or did before helsinki. at the same time, iran will evicted,"self to be " from the area around israel. a week ago, moscow proposed in beusalem that iranian forces kept out of a district which is 100 kilometers from the golan heights. theel and syria abide by agreement on the golan and they -- the israelis turned them down flat. israel's policy is that the iranian military presence in syria has to be completely withdrawn. the problem from moscow's point of view is that while they understand israel's security interest, taking the iranians out of syria means that assad's government is not secure at any point in time.
or anywhere really in syria, and moscow is not about to commit ground forces to syria in order to sustain assad against his people. the ideal outcome for russia would be a solution that holds the balance between israel and iran, gets the united states out of syria in return for other concessions, perhaps recognition of russian equities in europe, which we can talk. the creation of some sort of antiterrorist coalition with moscow and washington in the lead that allows moscow to do what it wants, but then assad rules over syria, possibly in a modified way but without any challenges and that the iranian presence in the rest of the country is there because in any case, moscow cannot eject iran from all of syria and it would be counterproductive for it to try. underlying that kind of thinking is the fact that iran has long
been seen in moscow in the following way. one, it is a state with which we must have an enduring relationship despite all the difficulties that exist in iran/russian relations in the fact that, let's be honest, tehran does not like moscow and probably moscow does not like tehran there is much either. nonetheless, iran is a major player in the middle east and its equities must be respected and moscow must be -- find a way to recognize it. lavrov said if we will have a peace conference in the region, iran must be invited, recognizing iran's interest in that part of the world. they see iran also as a potential market for russian energy deals and major on sales. there are other major deals already in progress on the table. third, moscow has always tried to create a bloc in the middle
east of states that support it against the united states' efforts to be the unilateral security manager in the middle east. now that we are apparently foregoing that quest, the creation of this bloc becomes all the more attractive and vital for russia. it so happens that they created this block in 1978-1979 -- i might be the only person in the room who remembers that -- it was called the rejectionist front. it was iran, iraq, and syria versus camp david. oddly enough, those are the same three states they want to create a bloc with now. not necessarily a bloc, but a working partnership. interestingly enough, they are all shiite. i imagine the idea, which still resonated in the kremlin -- but iran is important from that point of view, but at the same time, the russians know that what is most important to them is a working partnership, as they understand the term, with
the united states, with the u.s. and the west recognizing their greater global status pretensions, including europe, and they are prepared and always have been to sacrifice their relationship with iran to that imperative in the quest for -- and the keyword here is durable >> a durable working relationship with the united states. they can do that because of the fact that once the united states walked out of the jcpoa, the russian government became the only refuge for iran. europe will do nothing for iran, that is pretty clear. certainly the united states won't, even though trump says he will now negotiate with anyone in iran, they certainly don't believe him. that leaves russia. iran does not have anywhere to turn except russia and possibly china and while china may give it money, it cannot give it the political and military support it needs against the west. therefore, russia is in a position, or so it believes, to
deliver, if i may use that term, iran in some sense, but it is not strong enough or willing to enforce the situation where a -- iranian gets kicked out of syria altogether because it cannot do that and knows it would simply further destabilized syria and undermine everything moscow has accomplished. so it is in a strategically fortunate decision. -- position. it is now the primary interlocutor between israel and iran and the united states has been forced to accept russia on its terms. which is the way the russians saw the helsinki summit. it is also the primary interlocutor between syria and jordan, as the recent agreement shows, and also, it is, as we will discuss later today, fully active in north africa and the gulf, and using that springboard to go into sub-saharan africa, however tactically, it is now in a delicate position because as the war winds down, it has to change gears from being primarily a military actor to an
actor who now builds a durable and legitimate status quo, and the jury is still out as to if that can happen. thank you. >> thank you, stephen. >> good morning. i just want to thank the jamestown foundation for holding this event and extending the invitation. i will start up front with my bottom line, which is kind of a general assessment, and i will segue to my perception of how the israelis viewed the evolving conflict with iran and syria. if you want to know what and -- what an israel-iran war looks like, you have seen it already in the series of limited engagements both have already had in syria. both sides want to avoid a general war for reasons of geography. it's very difficult because they
do not share borders, for such a war to occur. but the fact that the last four arab-israeli wars -- the three in gaza and the one in lebanon in 2006 -- occurred as a result of an unintended expletive or -- expletive or a process, gives -- exploratory process gives reason for concern that something much broader could occur. i would argue that of hezbollah were to get involved in a fight between israel and iran, that would be the factor which would cause a broadening and escalation of the conflict or perhaps regional war, but i will discuss that a little bit in a moment. getting back to israel and how it looks at developments in recent years, it is important to note that the goal on front with israel has since 1974 and the disengagement agreement probably been -- for a border with a country that is still at war with israel, it has been very quiet and just about as quiet as
israel's border is with countries it is at peace with, the jordanian and egyptian border. when the syrian civil war kicked off, israel was faced with a with from their point of view, there was no good outcome. assad was not so great, although he was the devil they knew, and as i said before, he was able to keep the border quiet. support for hezbollah in the past was the way he engaged in proxy war with israel. on the other hand, opposition forces contained in their ranks jihadist groups who probably had from an israeli point of view the intention of once getting rid of assad, turning their guns on israel, so from their point of view, there was no good outcome, so israel basically sufficed itself defending red lines, which is violation of the golan cease-fire, transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist's,
weapons to hezbollah and the deployment of advanced sam's that would limit israel over syria. israel has acted to enforce these lines. we have seen since 2015 or so dramatic geopolitical transformations in iran's role in the region from a strategically lonely power to the head of the block along with -- most cohesive bloc along with the shiite foreign legion which is now operating in syria. iran has been transformed to a country circle -- fearing encirclement from the u.s. to a country practicing encirclement with regional allies and now hamas and lebanon, gaza, now they are trying to establish a base of operation in the golan against israel and if you take ayatollah's word that after the
the gaza war where he urged international community to arm the palestinians in the west bank, i would hold out as an aspirational iranian goal to create a situation where they can arm palestinians in the west bank, but that will not happen any time soon as long as israel and jordan remain able to secure the border there. with syrian civil war winding down, iran increasingly invested resources and its attention in creating an infrastructure in syria that could be used as a platform for projecting power in the lafond and against israel. levant and against israel. there are several components of this buildup we've seen in the past few years. first of all, efforts to establish factories in syria and lebanon, for specifically specifically in lebanon by hezbollah, and syria, by the syrian government and various iranian proxies.
keep in mind, the idea of this is that in the past, israel and the united states have been able to interdict iranian arms shipments to hezbollah and some of its other proxies, and israel has conducted over 130 strikes against arms shipments in syria. destined for hezbollah. by creating factories in lebanon and syria, it makes it easier for iran or for iran's proxies to arm themselves and for the -- harder for the united states and israel to interdict these shipments because the weapons are being made locally. we have also seen iran greeting -- creating syrian and iraqi missions. -- militias to serve as proxies against israel. a lot of these were primarily created to fight -- proxies to keep the war against the opposition in syria. in iraq, they were created to fight isis, but of course, you know, they can be easily repurposed, and we have seen in iraqi group, they announced
the creation of a golan liberation brigade. i don't know if it really exist, in fact, but they announced it and with the idea that they would have elements that would fight in any future war against israel. we have seen tours on the lebanese border by some of these iraqi groups. presumably a kind of area familiarization kind of visit to prepare them presumably beyond the propaganda purposes of these visits, to prepare them for the possibility of participating in future wars. i run also built intelligent -- iran also built intelligence collection site. part of it is early warning but part of it is to build up their knowledge of the israeli enemy in order to facilitate future operations and then, logistical facilities in syria in order to support their militias there. to support them in the civil war and their operations against the anti-regime forces
there, but also perhaps to garrison and use them as a staging area for operations in the future against israel. as i mentioned, it's part of a kind of larger project of creating a network of proxies all around israel and others multiple directions. israel has been motivated by its concern of avoiding a repetition of the scenario that evolved in the last 30 years with regard to hezbollah where hezbollah in the 1980's was a small, ragged guerrilla group and now has emerged as a world-class hybrid military organization. israel sees initial first steps of such a process occurring in syria with the creation of hezbollah-like organizations and syria. again, the main purpose has been to fight the opposition in
syria, but again, once that war winds down, if it ends, they could be repurposed and eventually built up to serve iran's purposes in the context of a fight against israel, so israel is watching these things happen. as i mentioned before, israel since 2013 has been engaged in what they call a campaign between the wars against hezbollah. more than 130 strikes against hezbollah-related targets, convoys and arms depots, and they have now brought in that campaign for iranian targets. on the one hand, the fact that israel has been able to conduct over 130 strikes against hezbollah-related targets in syria since 2013 without that leading to a war perhaps gives reason to hope that the emerging israel-iran conflict in syria can be successfully managed or contained.
as i mentioned also before, neither iran nor israel want a major conventional war. their preferred mode of operation in both cases is to operate below the threshold of general conflict, ok? that is a factor toward the -- which i think militates toward the continued management of the conflict. on the other hand, as i mentioned, last israeli wars started that way and escalated to something much larger, so that is a countervailing factor. there are several others that have to be considered. i mentioned before, the thing that could really change it is if hezbollah gets dragged into the conflict. iran has limited military structure in syria right now. they have not built up a missile array or ground forces there
like you have in lebanon, and it -- if hezbollah were to be dragged into a conflict, again, you have 100,000 rockets that hezbollah has, including rockets arranged throughout israel, and if israel would want to stop the launch of rockets, they would have to go in on the ground. but the fact is right now, hezbollah has become too important for iran to risk in such a war, and as a result, they have created these proxies -- i mentioned before these groups being created to engage israel from the golan so israel does not get dragged into the war. i know in answer will be talking about this. israel is also being concerned that iran and hezbollah may have been emboldened by their successes and might reinforce the propensity for overreach. we sought incidents, one
involving syrians in eastern syria, the syrians working with russian mercenaries to attack democratic force units resulting in american airstrikes and the killing of at least 200, perhaps, of these russians and pro-regime forces, and we still have the iranian overflight of israel by the uav in february, supposedly an armed uav. the israeli and american response i think has put both iran and syria on their heels and caused them to act with greater caution as a result, but if you look at this, when they decided on a strategic direction, they will sometimes back off but then try to find other ways to achieve their goals until we attacked by other means, so to speak. the tensions in gaza -- i think that is a factor that maybe is a
constraining factor in some ways because israel having to deal with tensions on the border and violence on the border in recent months does not want a two-front if they can avoid it. to the degree that israel sees to some extent iran trying to egg hamas on in gaza might militate in the other direction, so it's not clear how gaza plays out in israeli calculations. but in the past israel has tried to avoid two-front wars. russia is also a couple getting factor right now. russia has played a role in that they have apparently -- i don't know if they have been a green light or yellow light, how you would characterize it, but has not done anything to interfere with israeli operations in syria against hezbollah or against iranian forces there and as long , as that remains the case, i think israel will be able to conduct air operations against
iran's emerging infrastructure and the question is if iran is , able to build infrastructure faster than israel can destroy it. i think the verdict is out on that, but if russian policies were to change, that could have a major factor on israel's freedom of action, and it's not clear if it will constrain it or actually cause israel to double down to try to reassert freedom of action to prevent iran from using a change in russian policy to further build up its infrastructure there. there's also another factor at work here. the israelis recently hit a resort, killing up to 50 people, including 20 members of the iraqi militia. at first, i think there were concerns that this could lead to perhaps targeting of american troops in the region, but they
came out with a statement saying that if israel hits them and iraq, americans will be in jeopardy. the thing is, israelis were not hitting them in iraq. israelis hit them in syria, and i don't think the israelis had any intention of hitting them in iraq. that will be another factor militating against expiration. -- there is another layer of complexity and there is a possibility that these two parallel lines, israeli operations against iran in syria and vice versa, and perhaps emerging tensions between the united states and iran as a result of the jcpoa could merge and have a reinforcing a fact. but me conclude by saying that -- let me conclude by saying that as i said before the fact that israel has conducted some of the strikes against hezbollah in the last five years raises
perhaps and could provide a reason for hope that israel and iran could manage their conflict in syria. but, there are a number of factors could lead to escalation. first, if israel proves unable to limit the growth of iran's infrastructure over time, it will probably incentivize them to intensify operations there. iran might seek to response by escalating further against israel as a result either from syria or elsewhere in the world. or if iran or syria feels the need to strike back at israel, they might decide to act against israel outside of serial, by perhaps conducting terrorist attacks around the world and that could provoke israel to respond. the last point i will make is as i mentioned before, if hezbollah gets in the fray, all bets are off.
it is quite likely will use their inventory of rocket against critical infrastructure in israel, and israel will want to hit back, not just in lebanon but perhaps in iran. i will note that iran's oil industry is located in the southwest part of the country, which is the part that is the closest to israel. this might be at a time when the united states is trying to put maximum economic pressure on iran and it might be a tempting target. if israel hits iran's oil industry, iran might respond by hitting across the gulf in arab states, especially if they are cheering israel on. i think this is a low likelihood, high impact event. i do not think this is something that is likely, but i'm trying to show a path how a local concept could become a regional conflict despite the desirable
of the parties to keep it. thank you very much. >> thank you very much. >> am i on now? can you hear me? would you like to start? >> thank you for organizing such a timely conference. it is a great pleasure to be a part of this panel and iran's strategy in syria has changed. iran began interference in syria and intervention at the outset in 2011 with the specific objective of defeating the sunni opposition and keeping bashar al-assad and power.
in 2017, the objectives were virtually achieved. , victory overs the opposition in aleppo in december 2016, it was the beginning of the end of the opposition movement in syria. logically, iran should have evacuated forces, including those in syria. it did not. that is when the strategy changed. the new strategy in syria for iran is basically two main goals. one is projection of power, especially in regards to the shia community in the region, showing iran is still involved as a major power in syria, even in post-conflict syria. the second and probably more important for iran is to be --
to have forces deployed close to the israeli front decisions. it has been something they have been talking about since the first days of the revolution. as a matter of fact, the agency -- iranian agency in charge of iranian policy in syria was a force that was named to eventually be the stated goal of the republic. they chose this opportunity to be in syria to be as close with the israelis as they ever dreamed of to counterbalance israel's cover and israeli influence in the area. to do those two new object is an
-- new objectives, new strategies, iran needed the forces under command, which included and aleppo 80,000 shia militia acting as the ground force, as the land force for the operations. they needed freedom of movement in the country. also, they needed to have a direct supply line from iran syria. if they wanted to stay there permanently, then they had intended that. they did have air bridge between iranian air force damascus airport, but during times of conflict, airfields can be taken out fairly quickly.
land bridge only give them position of cover and they could move heavy equipment and larger formations of personnel easier on the land forces. they had to create a so-called land bridge, connecting iran to iraq to syria, lebanon, and the israeli positions. on a technical level, iran wanted to stay in syria because they thought the u.s. under both administrations would be leading -- leaving syria soon and they would follow the u.s. to fill in the vacuum that was left by the u.s. and move into the territory that will be left by the u.s. and its allies in syria. to do all of the new object is, iran needed to permanently base its forces in syria.
they started leasing parts of dozens of the syrian military bases across syria, especially in the south. people have counted up to 40 different bases -- military bases that iran has installations in. why they need all those bases, they need to have a command and control center, house intelligence, they need to have uav command and control and runways, and they need more than anything else to base tens of thousands of shia militias under their command in those bases. that is where they are trying to be in syria on a permanent
basis. this is not happening in vacuum. while they were successful in syria and aleppo, ironically, iran itself started facing serious problems -- economic problems inside iran. you have in following the meltdown -- economic meltdown in the country, collapse of the national currency, and the results of that has been discontent among the population, and we have seen it in a wave of presentations and protests. -- demonstrations and protests. this is happening within that context. for iran, aside from syria, there are also things happening
affecting iran's strategy. in syria direct the. directly. a commander said that if iranian oil will not be exported from the persian gulf, no oil will be exported from the persian gulf. the larger extent of that is that iran is getting ready for some kind of operation in the region if the time comes that they follow the threats they have made in the past few weeks. you have on one hand, the economic problems and unrest in iran. you have another front in the persian gulf and in yemen that might open up.
those two could very well limit iran's desire to stay in syria permanently, and could be the factor that can push iran to come to some kind of copper mines in syria. -- some kind of compromise in syria. i will get to that in a second. staying in syria permanently, all israeliser to intentions. it is very clear that israel did not want to have any iranian military formations permanently stationed in syria. they has said so publicly. they rejected the russians offer of 100 kilometers and a buffer between iranian forces and the
forces under the command of iran including hezbollah, and the borders of israel. not that they don't want to have that, but from the israeli point of view, it was not enough for them. iran can still have its shia militia stationed outside the buffer zone. iran can still have longer range rockets and missiles deployed outside the buffer zone. iran can still have the land bridge outside the buffer zone, and all of those things would be an acceptable to israel -- unacceptable to israel. from the israeli point of view, the solution would be that iran has to leave syria altogether. now you can see the looming major conflict in iran and israel brewing.
one wants to say there permanently, and the other side wants israel to leave -- wants them to leave syria now. that is the essence of the conflict that is happening in that part of the world. israelis have hit iranian forces directly. that israelicident forces hitch back at iranian forces after they had sent rockets into the israeli occupied golan. the israelis hit back and -- in massive mud is
-- massive, am a roportional air and missile attacks on almost all of iranian installations within syria. the first major action by the israeli military directly against iranian forces, and these were the basis we were talking about. that day, it israel hit dozens of those installations within those bases. the message from israel was very clear that iran cannot stay. how can the compromise be between these two extreme objectives? the russians are trying their best to do so. they are trying to have iran to pull back 100 kilometers on the border. that might not be enough for israel and is not enough for israel, and they have said so.
it has to be more than that. a solution like iran keeping some advisors embedded within the syrian military, and then having hezbollah to have a presence and operate out of areas adjacent to the lebanese syrian border, above and beyond pulling back 100 kilometers from the border. a combination of all of those could give israel a reason to compromise on the subject. that is what the russians are really pushing hard these days. from the iranian point of view, this was probably happening to years ago. things are not happening in vacuum and the situation in iran and the situation in the persian
gulf is very serious and could push them into such a compromise. thank you. >> thank you very much. before opening the floor to questions, i would like to ask the question of each of our panelists, starting with stephen. i have heard in meetings and government circles that russia's relationship with the united states involves an analysis of what our threshold is before we react with military force and significant other kinds of actions. could you tell me what, in essence, russia's view of the united states red line as far as
russia goes in the future? stephen: i think that the russians have never articulated their view of what constitutes an american redline, although i am sure they have discussed it among themselves. any direct attack on russian forces or russian weapons being used on american soil or american citizens or a commercial vessel might constitute one of them. certainly russian, use the word collusion, in an attack against israel would certainly be a redline. an incident involving turkey, as a member of nato, could precipitate article for our article five action i nato -- by nato would be equally as bad by
russia's point of view. any iranian military offensive against the saudi's or one of the other emirates where it runs fingerprints are all too visible would also probably galvanize american reaction in a forceful way. the same might be true for egypt, but i do not think egypt is in danger from those kinds of things. i think those are red lines. moscow has a thriving relationship, apart from all of we have discussed this morning, has commerce and trade. there are four flights going between tel aviv and moscow. at one point they were buying israeli weapons. years ago, things were unheard of, and i don't think they want to jeopardize that. i think those are what they understand red lines to be.
>> thank you very much for you mentioned israel's for red lines. could you repeat them before we start the questions? >> the red lines were related to the civil war 2011 and present, which were any violations of the golan cease-fire. transfer of chemical weapons to terrorists, which is not happened. the chemical weapons use has been by with the regime. the israelis have not acted on that one because the weapons were under government control. transfer of game changing weapons to hezbollah. israel acted 130 times.
and deployment to the syrian regime that would limit israel's plan of action. as a result of the recent conflict with iran, israel has also struck at syrian air defenses that try to prevent them from operating. with regard to the current red lines, i would say in equilibrium could raps -- perhaps be reached. israel tolerated around's and in syria from 2013 until now without striking -- iran's involvement in syria from 2013 until now without striking. they were building rocket factories and i do not think that is a redline for israel. their highly active rockets of the critical structure. israel will not tolerate that red line. intelligence gathering facilities, all were on the
and they were directed at israel. there was a warning and also intelligence used for offenses. logistical infrastructure that could serve the projection of force against israel in the golan. there is the potential for in equilibrium, but it is add a much lower level than which iran had been operating recently. israel, as a result of the strikes in may, they cut the grass down to the roots. if iran does not try to rebuild, that is the basis for in equilibrium in the long when, as long as they don't get close to the order and try to rebuild the factories. iran generally is very persistent, and i am skeptical they will accept that, at least at this time. maybe in the future.
but not for now. >> thank you very much. is there a redline that iran has before it would strike against israeli forces direct we? >> the redline is not in syria. israel it iranian facilities , almost all of iranian facilities on may 10. they wanted israelis to attack them, but they were not prepared . iran is not prepared to go to a major conflict or a major superior military force. military to military conflict on foreign soil, it iran is not prepared for that. they have always preferred to operate in the gray zone.
some of the operations they did in syria contradict that. for example, sending rockets into israeli golan is in direct contradiction of the gray zone. they do not think iran is ready for his prepared or has the forces to start a major conflict with israel on the syrian soil. that is one of the reasons it might be -- there might be room for some compromise. the big redline would be if israel attacks facilities in iran or attacks nuclear facilities in iran, that would be different. >> thank you. i would like to open it up now.
i would like to basically -- before you ask your question, would you please identify yourself and if you are willing tell us what your affiliation is so we know where the question is coming from. first question was up front, and then there was a second question. >> mark katz from george mason university. thank you for an interesting presentation. i have two questions for stephen particular. you mentioned that the russians advertise themselves as being in a position where they can talk to everyone, israelis, iranians. whereas the u.s. cannot or will not as we know from previous american -- just being able to talk isn't sufficient. there has to be a combination to offer things, carrots and sticks and the american support for israel.
does russia have a combination of carrots and sticks it can use to bring about an israeli-iranian conflict resolution, or is that what it is interested in or are they simply interested in tamping down a conflict? my second question is that as part of what we have seen that the russians have indicated that they cannot and won't remove the iranians from syria, and for all the reasons you stated, they also made clear that they are not going to get in the way of israeli strikes on iran. at what point does that affect the russian-iranian relationship? how long can they keep on
cooperating or if russia does respond, how this effect the russian-israeli conflict -- relationship? russia getting along with iran and israel will be challenged if there is an israeli, iranian conflict continuing. thank you. >> the ability to talk to everybody and make deals with everybody, and let it to the carrots and sticks, is vital to understanding russia's policy and its success in the middle east at large, not just in this particular series of issues. for israel, they have a thriving trade. israel also understands that american support, although the trump administration may be close to israel, is in the long
run not as strong as it used to be and that israel has to talk to moscow also because moscow is a major player in the middle east. as far as iran goes, russia has carrots, arm sales, support with result to the jcpoa and united nations, its ability to talk to the saudis and modify prices is important for iran. they stuck it to iran because they worked with the saudis. were put on production and the russians and saudis said no. iran had to accept it. the russian calculation is that iran may be a difficult partner, but it is difficult. where we can support them we will. we helped them get number ship in the shanghai corporation. they have thriving train -- trade. their arms used to be made. we can act by virtue of our ability to make deals with others, we can restrain them from attacking iran.
what russia is trying to do is prevent iran from striking israel and israel from striking back. it is trying to be the referee in a boxing match. everybody go to a neutral corner and cool off. to the second question, what can we do to prevent that? the russians see their ability to control and escalate conflicts, not just in the middle east or the ones we know about in europe and so on. that is essential to their strategy. what they see from the united states is that they do not know how to impose escalation control and is fighting inconclusive, prolonged wars with no end in sight and are wreaking havoc all over the place.
we can argue whether or not that is a correct assessment, that is the way they see things. they see their strategy as being one that allows them to maintain escalation control. once they make a deal, that site is afraid if they afraid badly as far as russia is concern or get in to a conflict with russian partners, they will lose that. they have a vested interest in cooperation with russia. this provides the russians for a basis for a long-term partnership and make them enablers to play a major role throughout the middle east. the carrots and sticks are inherent in the stability to make deals and have dialogue with people and say, we will support you up to a point. and then turn around and say, the iranians are right on this issue. everybody has to keep issues in balance. they are not trying to bring a resolution.
they are trying to bring a perpetual timeout. >> is there a question back here? >> stanley clover. there is a saying that you may not be interested in more, but war is interested -- in the war, but war is interested in you. everybody is in control. what if nobody is in control? i i am thinking about one issue, jerusalem. there is a lot of stuff going on in jerusalem. there was a riot last friday. what if there is an incident in jerusalem, and the arabians say, we will be the defenders -- iranians say they will be the defenders of jerusalem. once that match is lit, how big is the conflict?
>> are you directing that a particular member? >> anyone who wants to. >> i think the iranians, i am sorry if i am infringing. the iranians have a cold-blooded approach to their interests. if you look at the 2006 lebanon war, there were protests in tehran in support of hezbollah. if protests occur without official -- these kinds of protest usually have official blessing when they occur. if people were volunteering to go fight, my knowledge, and there were a number of journalists who covered it at the time, none of them were allowed to go. the 2006 war would have been --
this was tailor-made given the regimes commitments to has bought and the downtrodden, this would've been natural to let the people go, and they didn't. they did not want to get dragged into a war and have iranian citizens killed and have domestic pressure put on the regime. they don't do anything for anyone if it is not in their interests. right now, by and large, they have been trying to act in a very careful way to shape an altar the regional status quo and balance power without having things spiral out of control. i said before, it could spiral out of control. they do not allow events to drag them into fights that they don't want. that doesn't mean that they won't escalate or do things, but every once in a while iran does
something loopy. the overflight of israel in february. you have hobart towers. you have the green barracks bombing. i don't rule out possibility they will do something to lead to miscalculation, but they only do it that they think is in their interests and not that they were dragged into it by protesters. >> i agreed with that here the initial concern i have is the most severe internal situation in iran gets, especially if you have a massive demonstration and movement against the regime, the more likelihood that iran would welcome foreign intervention or
foreign conflict to deflect attention from that, even if it is manufactured. that is a concern i have. there are other areas like the coast of yemen -- if those missiles that the iranians have given hit a u.s. ship or an allied ship and has major damage, you never know what could happen. >> i would say, stan, also that we saw what happened in march when we had the embassy ceremony in jerusalem. the only people who reacted were hamas, and they reacted in a productively self-defeating manner. nobody in the arab world took any kind of serious action for the rhetoric. there are people now saying this administration's peace plan, which is probably d.o.a. anyway
won't work unless it is something addressing jerusalem at the palestinian capital. i do not think an insolent -- incident in jerusalem will provoke the iranians to attack israel. it might provoke hamas or hezbollah. that is a different question. >> the young man over here. everybody is a young man to me. [laughter] >> my name is ben williams. i had a question about hezbollah which is often described as a proxy of iran, but say the iranians were to have to cut off support tomorrow, would hezbollah be able to act independently, and
would they want or move towards another war with israel? that is for anyone. >> hezbollah depends on iran for many things, including a great portion of their budget, probably 80% or 90% of their operating budget. they need iran for arms and for arming them. besides, hezbollah has close bounds. it was formed by the iranians a few years after the evolution in iran from -- after the iranians were forced into movement and bringing the shiites and then bringing individuals, even leftists and lebanese and
shiites and putting them all together and formed hezbollah. if iran stopped it support for hezbollah altogether for any number of reasons, and hezbollah would not be the hezbollah we know. it would be a political organization within the lebanese political system, not the hezbollah we know. >> next question. >> there seems to be geographical bias here. >> my question can go to anyone in the panel. given the recent involvement of iran going closer and closer to the golan heights, what are the implications of the disagreement
and disagreed, -- disengagement and the management of airspace? over time, do we suspect those to degrade a redo -- or duly expect those to be maintained on both sides? >> if you will remember at the helsinki summit, two presidents were concerned about israel's security and wanted to ensure the 74 agreements were kept. the israeli government has said they will keep them, and it will abide by those agreements. its quarrel is not with the this policy -- the diplomacy. netanyahu's government has carried out.
they are prepared and fully willing to extend by the agreement in 1974 and assad, not much choice in the matter. it was left up to israel and syria that agreement would not , be disturbed. the only factor trying to undermine that is iran. after what happened to them in may, i am not convinced they are going to do so in a hurry again. they will always try to magnify their advantage and push their interests. they are risk-averse when it comes to direct confrontation with a superior military force. i am not all that worried that the 1974 agreement is in danger. iran got taught a good lesson in may. >> it was in january 2015 where the israelis struck a convoy,
killing an iranian general whenever engaged in a battlefield tour. any iranians or malicious that tried to establish a presence in that area will be hit. apparently, both the united states and russia have agreed and essentially indicated they would support any israeli action in that regard. it will be a very difficult environment for them to operate in. israel has excellent intelligence as well. they use the term intelligence supremacy in syria. >> next question. >> i wonder if anybody could talk about iran and israel's capability in cyber warfare as it pertains to either the u.s.
or other actor's in the region. we have discussed military attacks and how risk-averse they are, but they have shown some capability to attack carefully, and i think they have more capability. if you could address that. >> both states have formidable cyber capabilities. israel, for example, were involved in an incident showed high level of proficiency and a highly developed cyber state. they have a lot of capabilities, and everybody knows it.
iran does too. if you remember a couple of years ago they took down aramco which causes the saudi pain -- saudis pain and reverberates globally. i do not think that alone will bring about the iran-israel conflict that people are afraid of. i think it is more likely to be something other than cyber that precipitates that. >> the iranians are not prepared for a cyber attack when it happened. after that, they started having in did defensive cyber warfare capabilities and that offensive. they have their own cyber commands within the larger part
that are the major iranian act involved for preparation for cyber commands. it is extremely important. >> next question? way in the back. >> my question is that you said iranians took aleppo. the russians had a major contributions in the attack on aleppo. could you explain who is who. and who were the russians bombing in syria. >> i didn't quite understand the rest of the question.
if you could repeat the main thrust. >> it was said that the iranians took aleppo in 2016. the russian government had a major contribution in the attack on aleppo in 2016. which information is true or are both true, and second, russians are bombing someone in, who are they bombing, really? opposition to assad or everybody? >> i did not discuss the aleppo campaign. russia was critically important for the efforts of the pro-regime forces to defeat the opposition. the aerial campaign that russia led targeted non-isis forces.
they attacked the american supported forces. they created this polarization, there was no third way anymore to present a dilemma to the rest of the world, either you support the assad machine -- regime or you support groups like isis and jihadists. that was the initial strategy. now they are going against isis and they captured an area that from isis. initially, russia was targeting american supported rebel groups and rebel groups supported by other countries in turkey. they pivoted and were attacking groups that are jihadist in nature. that is my understanding. i hope that answers the question. >> next question. we have time for another question?
are we finished and we have one more? we are finished with questions. a 15 minute coffee break says the boss over here. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]