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November 13, 2017 No.
1358

The November 10, 2017 Trump-Putin Joint Statement Allows Iran To Deploy Forces Close To Israel's Border – Posing An Existential Threat To Israel's Security

Following the November 12, 2017 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, President Trump agreed to, and legitimized Iran's expansion in Syria, including the deployment of Iranian and pro-Iran militia forces close to the Syria-Israel border.

The joint statement, dated November 10, was released by both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department (see Appendix I). A map showing the areas where Iranian forces will be deployed was reportedly appended to the statement, but has not yet been released.

The statement does not mention any withdrawal of Iranian forces and pro-Iran militias from Syria at any time in the future. Apparently in response to off-the-record comments by American officials to the effect that the statement includes a future withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria – which as noted it does not – the TV channel of the Russian Hmeimim Air Base in Syria, aired an announcement by Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov stating: "We [Russia] demand that the U.S. cease its attempts to interpret the Russia-U.S.-Jordan memorandum concerning southwestern Syria that was approved in Amman on November 8 and, finally, by Putin and Trump at their meeting. The agreement does not demand the withdrawal of any foreign forces from western Syria, including Iranian forces and the armed factions loyal to Iran, as stated by the U.S. State Department. Russia did not promise to discuss this issue with the Syrian regime, as has been rumored; even the claim by an American official that the memorandum includes [the provision that] southwestern Syria will remain under opposition control until the political arrangement is finalized is incorrect."[1]

In previous reports, MEMRI discussed the Iran-Russia alliance that poses an existential threat to Israel (see Appendix II).

In effect, with this consent to Iran's entrenchment in Syria, President Trump, and the U.S., are joining and reinforcing this Iran-Russia alliance that threatens Israel's existence – in blatant contradiction of Trump's statements of support for Israel and its security as well as his declared commitment to fight Iran's expansion in the region. This joint Trump-Putin statement accomplishes the opposite.

This is the second time that the Trump administration has legitimized and reinforced Iran's expansion in the region, in stark contrast to its declared strategy, as expressed in various announcements and particularly in his "new strategy on Iran" speech of October 13, 2017.[2] The first time was at the Astana summit, in which the U.S. participated, and at which Iran was given the status of "guarantor" of the plan for deployment of forces to fight the Islamic State (ISIS).[3] It is notable that according to reports, President Putin discussed the Astana plan with President Trump, and obtained his agreement for it, by phone.

The November 8 memorandum was described as pertaining to Jordan, but it pertains even more to Israel, which opposes the U.S.-Russia understandings on Syria.

The U.S. gave its consent to this despite the fact that Iran is ramping up its threats against the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel.

Sources stressed that the November 10 joint statement was prepared by the U.S. State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry. this grave development in the threat to Israel's existence was agreed upon in brief encounters that Trump held with Putin during the APEC summit.[4]

*Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project.
 

APPENDIX I: The Trump-Putin Joint Statement

The following is the joint Putin Trump statement as released by the Russian Foreign Ministry and by the U.S. State Department. It should be noted that there is an extra paragraph at the end of the U.S. State Department version: "In addition, President Trump noted that he had a good meeting with President Putin. He further noted that the successful implementation of the agreements announced today will save thousands of lives‎."

"Statement by the Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States of America

"November 11, 2017

"President Trump and President Putin today, meeting on the margins of the APEC conference in Danang, Vietnam, confirmed their determination to defeat ISIS in Syria. They expressed their satisfaction with successful US-Russia enhanced de-confliction efforts between US and Russian military professionals that have dramatically accelerated ISIS's losses on the battlefield in recent months.

"The Presidents agreed to maintain open military channels of communication between military professionals to help ensure the safety of both US and Russian forces and de-confliction of partnered forces engaged in the fight against ISIS. They confirmed these efforts will be continued until the final defeat of ISIS is achieved.

"The Presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They confirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254. They also took note of President Assad's recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254.

"The two Presidents affirmed that these steps must include full implementation of UNSCR 2254, including constitutional reform and free and fair elections under UN supervision, held to the highest international standards of transparency, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.

"The Presidents affirmed their commitment to Syria's sovereignty, unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character, as defined in UNSCR 2254, and urged all Syrian parties to participate actively in the Geneva political process and to support efforts to ensure its success.

"Finally President Trump and President Putin confirmed the importance of de-escalation areas as an interim step to reduce violence in Syria, enforce ceasefire agreements, facilitate unhindered humanitarian access, and set the conditions for the ultimate political solution to the conflict. They reviewed progress on the ceasefire in southwest Syria that was finalized the last time the two Presidents met in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017.

"The two presidents, today, welcomed the Memorandum of Principles concluded in Amman, Jordan, on November 8, 2017, between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America. This Memorandum reinforces the success of the ceasefire initiative, to include the reduction, and ultimate elimination of foreign forces and foreign fighters from the area to ensure a more sustainable peace. Monitoring this ceasefire arrangement will continue to take place through the Amman Monitoring Center, with participation by expert teams from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Russian Federation, and the United States.

"The two Presidents discussed the ongoing need to reduce human suffering in Syria and called on all UN member states to increase their contributions to address these humanitarian needs over the coming months."

"Vietnam, Danang, November 10, 2017"[5]

"Joint Statement by the President of the United States and the President of the Russian Federation

"Media Note

"Office of the Spokesperson

"Washington, DC

"November 11, 2017

"President Trump and President Putin today, meeting on the margins of the APEC conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, confirmed their determination to defeat ISIS in Syria. They expressed their satisfaction with successful U.S.-Russia enhanced de-confliction efforts between U.S. and Russian military professionals that have dramatically accelerated ISIS’s losses on the battlefield in recent months.

"The Presidents agreed to maintain open military channels of communication between military professionals to help ensure the safety of both U.S. and Russian forces and de-confliction of partnered forces engaged in the fight against ISIS. They confirmed these efforts will be continued until the final defeat of ISIS is achieved.

"The Presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They confirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254. They also took note of President Asad's recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254.

"The two Presidents affirmed that these steps must include full implementation of UNSCR 2254, including constitutional reform and free and fair elections under UN supervision, held to the highest international standards of transparency, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.

"The Presidents affirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character, as defined in UNSCR 2254, and urged all Syrian parties to participate actively in the Geneva political process and to support efforts to ensure its success.

"Finally President Trump and President Putin confirmed the importance of de-escalation areas as an interim step to reduce violence in Syria, enforce ceasefire agreements, facilitate unhindered humanitarian access, and set the conditions for the ultimate political solution to the conflict. They reviewed progress on the ceasefire in southwest Syria that was finalized the last time the two Presidents met in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017.

"The two presidents, today, welcomed the Memorandum of Principles concluded in Amman, Jordan, on November 8, 2017, between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America. This Memorandum reinforces the success of the ceasefire initiative, to include the reduction, and ultimate elimination, of foreign forces and foreign fighters from the area to ensure a more sustainable peace. Monitoring this ceasefire arrangement will continue to take place through the Amman Monitoring Center, with participation by expert teams from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Russian Federation, and the United States.

"The two Presidents discussed the ongoing need to reduce human suffering in Syria and called on all UN member states to increase their contributions to address these humanitarian needs over the coming months.

"In addition, President Trump noted that he had a good meeting with President Putin. He further noted that the successful implementation of the agreements announced today will save thousands of lives‎."[6]
 

APPENDIX II: MEMRI Daily Briefs – The Russia-Iran Axis: An Existential Threat To Israel

MEMRI Daily Brief No. 138, The Russia-Iran Axis: An Existential Threat To Israel's Security – Part I: A Wakeup Call

By: Yigal Carmon*

October 23, 2017

The Iranian forces and Iran-supported militias are expanding in Syria and approaching the Israeli border. This is happening with the full support and facilitation of Russia, even though Russia knows very well that Iran's aim is to fight the State of Israel and eradicate it, and that its expansion in Syria will significantly advance that aim. While Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov calls Israel's demand that the Iranians maintain a distance of 40 km from its border "not realistic" – after Iran has come 2,000 km to reach this point – Russian Defense Minister Shoygu has the temerity to come to Israel and entreat it to refrain from defending itself.

The Russians believe that they can mislead Jerusalem. But so far, Israel has elected to act according to facts, rather than being taken in by Russian duplicity, and is striking Syrian targets that endanger Israel.

While Syria and Iran enjoy full Russian support, Israel lacks U.S. backing against the Russia-Iran threat. The U.S. does not even stand for itself in Syria – just a few days ago, Russia, like a rogue state, violated the deconfliction zone agreement that it itself had signed with the U.S. Therefore, Iran's expansion into all of Syria up to the Israeli border will soon be completed, with the full support of Russia, and with an eventual withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria.

Senior Iranian officials and military commanders have already clarified that after Syria, Israel is next.

Israel will have to fight its war against the Iran-Russia-Syria axis alone. It will need America's diplomatic backing, military equipment, and economic assistance, but never American troops. But as matters stand, the actual U.S. strategy vis-à-vis Iran's expansion in the region is contrary to its rhetoric, which opposes this expansion (the U.S. agreed, both in the Astana talks and in the deconfliction zones agreement with Russia, to legitimize Iran's presence in Syria). This means that American support for Israel against the Iran-Russia axis is not assured. The U.S.'s Russia policy also does not guarantee that the U.S. will stand with Israel against the Iranian threat that is enabled by Russia.

Israel is well equipped to answer existential threats if it must – even if they are either directly or indirectly Russian. At the same time, Russia's military power may prove to be overestimated. Russia acts as if it is a world power, but its advanced weaponry may fail against Israeli-American technological superiority. This may be why Russia is in no hurry to launch its missiles when Israel strikes in Syria. President Obama even called Russia a regional power.

This is not to say that there is no existential threat to Israel. Clearly, the Iran-Russia-Syria-Hizbullah axis does pose such a threat, but Israel can overcome it, if it must. However, its ability to face the threat depends on early recognition that Russia is part of the enemy axis.

The inability of many in Israel and the West to perceive Russia as the enemy stems from the belief that Russia has no reason in the world to be Israel's enemy. Therefore, they ignore what they see happening in Syria, and instead provide complicated explanations about an inherent conflict of interests between Russia and Iran. This is a psychological failing from which Israel suffered bitterly in its history, as have other nations.

So why would Russia align itself politically and strategically with Iran?

Russia views itself as a superpower fighting to reclaim its former status. Indeed, for Russia the enemy is not Israel. Russia's true adversary is the U.S., and Israel is an historic ally of that adversary. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, an increasingly embittered Russia has escalated its attempts to regain its past glory. The Russian regime hates the U.S. (to understand this, it is sufficient to read Putin's address a few days ago at the annual Valdai Club conference; see MEMRI Russian Media Project report).

But Russia cannot fight the U.S. directly. America is in the North Sea, and the best Russia can do is dispatch planes to buzz the U.S. Navy there. NATO is expanding eastwards and Russia's forces are no match for it – as attested to by General Staff Col. (ret.) Mikhail Khoradenok on Russian television, to the dismay of his audience: "We have 200 warplanes, while NATO has 3,800. We have 1,600 armored vehicles and APCs, while NATO has more than 20,000... Thus, anyone who talks about our capability to wage a conventional war against NATO is clearly too hotheaded" (see MEMRI Russian Media Project Clip #5902, February 14, 2017). Russia's single antiquated smoke-belching aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is no match for the U.S. Navy, with its 10 advanced carriers.

Russia cannot take on America directly, and it is using Iran as its proxy to humiliate America, undermine its status, and expel it from the region. At the same time, Russia can use Iran as a bargaining chip to obtain what it needs the most: a lifting of the sanctions that were imposed after Russia annexed Crimea and dismembered Ukraine. Russian regime-affiliated think tanks and media explicitly stated in early 2017 that Russia's alliance with Iran could be a bargaining chip; see reports from the MEMRI Russian Media Project, below.[7]

Unless and until Russia and the West strike a deal on lifting these sanctions in exchange for Russia's abandoning its alliance with Iran – which is completely unrealistic – Russia will cling to this alliance. This is because Iran reinforces Russia's superpower aspirations and pretensions, and shares, and serves, Russia's drive to humiliate and undermine the U.S. Any harm done to Israel in the process does not figure in Russia's strategic considerations vis-à-vis the U.S. Worse, even if Russia were to change direction at any time in the future, Iran's Russia-enabled expansion in Syria, and its proximity to Israel, will remain, and will serve as the Islamic Republic's launching pad for its war against Israel.


MEMRI Daily Brief No. 139, The Russia-Iran Axis: An Existential Threat To Israel – Part II: The Nuclear Dimension

By: Yigal Carmon*

October 24, 2017


Introduction

Part I of our analysis of the Russian-Iranian existential threat to Israel, published October 23, 2017, focused on the conventional military dimension of the threat posed by Russia's facilitation of Iran's expansion in Syria, up to Israel's borders with both Lebanon and Syria.

Part II, below, focuses on the nuclear dimension of this threat.

Adding The Nuclear Dimension To The Threat

Russia is making it possible for Iran to evade inspection of its nuclear program, to which it is subject under the JCPOA. In this way, it adds a nuclear element to the existential threat to Israel, as follows:

A. Iran's inventory of 8.5 tons of enriched uranium, shipped out of Iran to Russia in December 2015 in accordance with the JCPOA, has gone missing in Russia. This was attested to by the Obama administration's State Department lead coordinator on Iran, Stephen Mull, at a February 11, 2016 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, where he said: "It has not yet been decided where exactly Russia will put this information [sic]." But under questioning, Mull acknowledged that Washington had not verified the Iranian shipment.[8]

B. The most egregious example of Russia's facilitation of Tehran's development of nuclear weapons capability is its support of Iran's refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspections in accordance with Section T of the JCPOA, which prohibits Iran from "designing, developing, fabricating, acquiring, or using multi-point explosive detonation systems suitable for a nuclear explosive device" and also from "designing, developing, fabricating, acquiring, or using explosive diagnostic systems (streak cameras, framing cameras and flash x-ray cameras)" – unless these activities are "approved by the Joint Commission for non-nuclear purposes" and "subject to monitoring." Iran refuses to allow such monitoring, and Russia supports it in its refusal. Russia claims, in a preposterous argument, that the IAEA is not authorized to deal with this part of the JCPOA. Its stance was illustrated in October 20, 2017 remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference: "It is impossible to strengthen what does not exist. The IAEA has no mandate to verify Section T."[9]

Thus, Russia's sabotage of the implementation of sections of the JCPOA, and its claim that Iran's 8.5-ton inventory of enriched uranium has gone missing, contribute directly to Iran's unhindered ability to develop nuclear weapons capacity.

 

[1] Facebook.com/RussianmilitaryinSyria, November 12, 2017.., October 19, 2017.

[3] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6910, Memorandum On The Creation Of De-Escalation Areas In Syria, May 7, 2017.

[4] Telegraph.co.uk, November 12, 2017; Tass.com, November 12, 2017; Sydney Morning Herald, November 11, 2017; WSJ.com, November 12, 2017. 

[5] Kremlin.ru/supplement/5252, November 11, 2017.

[6] State.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/11/275459.htm, November 11, 2017.

[8] Menewsline.com, February 16, 2016.

[9] Mid.ru, October 20, 2017. See also Reuters, September 26, 2017.