This image taken in Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015 posted on the Twitter account of Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, a volunteer search and rescue group, shows the aftermath of an airstrike in Talbiseh, Syria. Russia on Wednesday carried out its first airstrikes in Syria in what President Vladimir Putin called a pre-emptive strike against the militants. Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the U.N. that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed dozens of civilians, with children among the dead. (Syria Civil Defence via AP)
This morning’s column is a follow-on piece to yesterday’s, partly in response to criticism (some fair, some not) down in the comments. Many readers wondered why we should be bothered that Putin is killing jihadis and defending Syria, which has been a Russian ally for decades. I’ll get to why that’s going to haunt us in the second half of this column.
The first half is in response to New York University’s Burdin Hickok, and his belief that Putin’s War in Syria is all about oil. It is about oil, but only in part. So let’s go to Hickok for that angle:
With Russia and allied Iran increasing their presence throughout the Middle East, ostensibly to combat ISIS, Saudi Arabia stands with a large target on its back. Iran has been recognized by the Saudi leadership as an existential threat. Saudi Arabia’s principle tool to counter Iran adventurism has been increasing oil production, which pressures the price of oil and keeps the Iranian economy weak.
Iran, of course, has not been the only player hurt by lower oil prices. The Russian economy has been hammered by the one-two punch of sanctions imposed from their involvement in Ukraine and the drop in oil prices.
Now with Russia’s growing presence in Syria, a partnership with Iran and a retreating U.S., Saudi Arabia is faced with a new and unfriendly world. Without confidence that the U.S. will have its back, Saudi Arabia may feel compelled to bend to Russia and Iran’s inevitable pressure to reduce oil production. And this will lead to greater pressure for all OPEC countries to reduce production and support higher prices.
There’s more to it than just oil.
Israel’s ability to defend itself against Hamas is hampered by Russia’s growing presence in Syria, and her ability to strike at Iran’s nascent nuclear program is similarly contained by Russian overtures towards Iraq. If Saudi Arabia is forced to acquiesce to the Russo-Iranian Axis then Egypt, dependent on Saudi munificence to stay fed, will follow suit.
Israel would then be boxed in like at no time since before 1967′s Six-Day War — only this time with Russian troops right next door and a nuclear-armed Iran to contend with as well.
For Iran and Russia, this might be “merely” a war for economic advantage. But Israel’s very existence is threatened like never before.
Then there’s the threat to us.
While Obama was overcommitted to the wrongheaded “right war” in Afghanistan, Putin and Khamenei were preparing a much bigger play for the heart of the Arab Middle East — which will be pointed like a dagger, not just at Israel, but at the entire Western world.
Let me explain.