Behind-the-scenes Russian diplomacy
All indicators reveal that the Turkish fighter was downed by Russian and rather than Syrian defenses. The incident came as a reaction to the Syrian pilot who fled in his Russian-made plane to Jordan.
The Syrian pilot managed to flee thanks to the Israeli effort in crippling the Russian-made radar in Syria. Tel Aviv had one objective: To send a clear message to Iran that the Russian traditional air defense system is weak and can be beaten. Russia’s response was quick. By downing the Turkish fighter, Russia sent a message that the Russian air defense system is as good as its Western counterpart.
Russia is not assured of what is taking place in the region. Moscow strongly believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is already in the American orbit. In his latest visit to Israel, Putin told the Israeli leaders about the possibility of Washington’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendancy in Syria as it did in Egypt. Islamists, in this case, will surround Israel. Additionally, Putin warned the Jordanian leadership of anarchic consequence of the downfall of Assad’s regime. Nonetheless, the Muslim Brothers have sent via Turkey an assuring message to Washington. Their message is one of moderation.
Putin sought to push the panic button in Israel, thus warning them against an American complacency with the Muslim Brothers. Putin presented Israel with intelligence information about the movement of the Salafi jihadists and some elements of the Muslim Brotherhood from Libya on the Israel-Gaza border. He said that their ability to reach the Gaza borders enable them to reach the borders of the Caucasus. The irony is that Moscow has been conducting some contacts with Syrian Muslim Brothers in Istanbul. A senior Russia delegation met in Istanbul with the Supreme Leader of the Syrian’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Riyad Al-Shaqfeh.
They discussed how Russian interests could be safeguarded in Syria in case Russia stopped its support to Assad. The Russians sought to know the Muslim Brotherhood, their potentials and the external support for them. The Russian delegation also clarified the strength of Assad. However, the Muslim Brotherhood which welcomed the Russian step, confirmed that they were not the representatives of all political constituents and that Russia should stop its attempts to dismantle the Syrian opposition. They made it clear to the Russian delegation that Russia should take a clear strategy toward the ongoing events in Syria. Were it not for the Iranian support in the first place, the Syrian regime would not have committed crimes. They made it clear that they cannot force the Syrians to have friendly relations with a country that stood against their liberation.
A senior Turkish politician told me that Damascus, backed by Tehran and Moscow, trying to make the Syrian internal crisis into external conflict. People defect on daily basis and many of them do not announce that publicly fearing that their families may be hurt. He added that he predicted that Syria in this situation would resort to creating tension in the region. There is some evidence that Syria may target some Arab leaders to create tension. In the wake of the NATO meetings on the Turkish fighter jet incident, he said that Moscow had warned against unilateral interference in Syria.
In the meeting between Obama and Putin in Brazil on the sidelines of a Rio+20 conference, Obama suggested a safe exit for President Assad to Moscow. He suggested that Assad hand over power to his deputy while Assef Shawkat can stay at the helm of the security institution. This should be within the framework of democratic transition in which parliamentarian and presidential elections take place. Assad cannot run in next elections, according to this arrangement. Previously, Assad agreed to be exempted from this contest. And yet, both Tehran and Moscow refused. Therefore, Assad realized that Moscow and Tehran’s positions were dictated by their interests and not for his sake. Seen in this way, it seems that no one pays attention to Assad’s position. Therefore, after Moscow agreed to lift its hands off Assad, both Syria and Iran are expected to trigger crises in other countries like Lebanon and Jordan. They can fall back on the declared Iranian influence in Lebanon and the tacit influence in Amman.
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt constitutes the support for the rest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s institutions in the region. Their media and propaganda projects have not yet been tested. They had many previous experiences in secretly dealing with Washington, Berlin, Moscow and London. But today, everything is done in public. Therefore, Israel is not afraid of the revolution that has Islamic character. More importantly is that Iran did not benefit from these revolutions. On the contrary, both Tehran and Moscow are afraid of the Islamic color as Iran sees things through a sectarian prism. Tehran sees the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the Sunni world and part of the Turkish influence. Their victory in Egypt must have created fear in Iran.
In some Western circles, the debate is on the mechanism of change and the future of the political process in Syria. President Assad will find handing over power as the best option especially after the confrontation with the Syrian Free Army is taking place in the Damascus and after Tel Aviv sent surveillance planes over some vital and important facilities in Damascus. To paint a bleak picture of a post-Assad Syria, the Syrian media started targeting the Muslim Brotherhood by linking it to the daily incidents. The Syrian media claim that there has been a security coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and Ankara as the Muslim Brotherhood started targeting Syrian pilots and airplanes.
Are we witnessing an era of transformation in the Syrian crisis? Will Egypt enjoy significant influence in the Syrian crisis? Is the backtrack of Moscow the result of political assessment that Moscow has already lost the Arab world and lost the Syrian trust. If anything, Moscow’s secret talks with the Muslim Brotherhood is a reflection of Moscow’s realization that the game in Syria is over.
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