On Friday there was a very dramatic assessment from US National Security Council spokesperson Admiral John Kirby that military ties between Russia and Iran are developing into, “a full-fledged defense partnership.” The background is Russia’s desperate needs in its war against Ukraine but the political and geographical context is much broader.
Kirby said, “Let’s be clear. From this partnership a threat has been developing not only against Ukraine but also against Iran’s neighbors.” The US had shared this information with its allies in the Middle East and beyond, he added.
Signs of how Iran and Russia were moving closer have been seen for several months. Iran made up Russia’s shortage of drones, which have been instrumental in destroying Ukraine’s energy and water infrastructure. Use of drones decreased last month, because the stock had been depleted. But in the last two days, Iranian drones are reappearing in the skies of Ukraine. The government in Kyiv says that between Friday and Saturday they cut off the electricity supply to the entire region of Odessa, Ukraine’s main port on the Black Sea. 1.5 million Ukrainians have been left in the dark and cold as night temperatures in Odessa hover near zero.
An unprecedented level
The drones are just part of Russia’s shopping list. Iran has developed substantial ballistic capabilities. The US and UK say that Russia is procuring hundreds of Iranian ballistic weapons. Since the Russian army has fallen back into defensive positions on the battlefield, and suffered huge losses, the destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure has become a major goal. President Putin spoke about it openly on Friday, mocking the “fuss” that Western countries are making on this matter. “We will persist,” he said. And they are persisting, and they need to replenish their inventory.
According to the Biden administration, Russia and Iran are set to start jointly manufacturing drones in Russia. But the weapons and ammunition won’t be flowing in just one direction. “Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support and is turning the relations between them into a full-fledged defense partnership,” Kirby said.
The severity of the US warning is extraordinary. The war in Ukraine undermines security far beyond its borders and this now includes half of the Asian continent, including the Middle East.
All the means and all the partners
The regime in Moscow is gambling everything on a victory in Ukraine. Compromise, or concession, or withdrawal will seal the fate of the entire Russian elite. The definition of victory has not changed: complete surrender of Ukraine. Even if it continues to exist on paper, it must cease to be an independent country, and become a submissive Russian province, like Belarus.
Ten months ago, Putin believed that this goal would be achieved in the blink of an eye. He has given up on these expectations, without giving up on the aims of the war. This means that he is ready to take all measures and rely on the most dubious partnerships. Since Russia has stopped even pretending to be interested in international stability, there is no longer any reason to assume that it will hesitate to undermine this stability in regions both near and far.
It is now tying its fate in two countries, whose declared purpose is the demolition of the status quo in their regions. North Korea, an undisputed source of Russian ammunition, is testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit Washington and New York. Iran is trying to establish a land line between the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and acquire hegemony in the Gulf.
The expiry date is approaching
Over the years, Israel has avoided an open discussion of the question of Russia’s intentions in Syria. Israeli leaders have repeatedly praised the strategic understandings with Putin. These understandings, if they were credible in the first place, are very close to their expiry date. The need to limit Iran’s influence in Syria preoccupies Vladimir Putin far less than the question of the assistance that Iran can give him in eliminating Ukraine. Israel no longer has a rational reason to assume that it can rely on Russia’s good will.
According to the White House, Iranian pilots are training on Russian Sukhoi 35 fighter jets and it is just a matter of time before Russia begins supplying them to Iran. There can also be no doubt that the Iranians will substantially benefit from Russian knowhow in developing drones and ballistic missiles.
Since the 1960s, Israel has not found itself in a situation where a major and active enemy aiming for its total destruction and wanting to establish regional hegemony, could rely on advanced military equipment from a superpower. Back then the enemy was Nasser’s Egypt and the superpower was the Soviet Union. The circumstances were different but the dynamics have not changed.
Jets, horsemen, intentions and expectations
The impression that strategic changes are afoot around Israel’s borders grew stronger last week in the south as well. The “historic” visit of China’s President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia made clear the extent to which China has decided to enter the Middle East. The Chinese leader was given a friendly welcome in Riyadh by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who went out of his way to honor Xi. First there was a ceremonial flypast by smoke-emitting jets, then a ceremonial escort by horsemen, and finally with a hearty handshake that far exceeded the lukewarm reception given to US President Joe Biden earlier this year.
What Xi’s visit achieves other than ceremonial declarations and several cooperation agreements that did not require his presence is not yet known. But perhaps more important than the visit itself was the Chinese announcement prior to the visit in that it demonstrated the intentions and expectations.
The announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “This will be the biggest and highest level diplomatic event between China and the Arab world since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. This will be a milestone that will open a new era in the history of relations between China and the Arabs.” There was certainly no absence of superlatives.
The US issued veiled warning
The US is watching anxiously as these affairs unfold. The man in charge of the Middle East portfolio on the White House National Security Council, Brett McGurk, warned last month at a conference in Bahrain that “partnerships of a certain kind with China will put a ceiling on what we’re going to be able to do.”
His warning was veiled, but in the past the US has urged its friends to refrain from giving access to their 5G systems to Chinese tech giant Huawei. The US believes that Huawei is not only looking for new markets to make money, but also to fulfill tasks assigned to it by China’s security services The US is also suspicious of Saudi-Chinese cooperation in the development of ballistic missiles.
It is easy to guess what China’s long-term goals are. Like most of the world, China believes that the end is near of long-standing US supremacy in almost every matter is near. Even though China expresses public opposition to the very concept of a “political vacuum”, there is no doubt that it assumes that such a vacuum is developing and growing, in the Middle East too. So China is sticking a very big foot in the door.
Saudi Arabia’s young Crown price happy in the company of the elderly Chinese dictator. Both hate democratic governments, which express opinions about the human rights situation in their countries. The brotherhood of tyrants is the tragic motif of our time: from Moscow to Tehran, from Beijing to Riyadh.
(c) 2022 the Globes
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