Russia, Iran, Turkey in Syria:

A Middle East Round Table Discussion
with Daniel Diker of JCPA

by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates (April 2018)

Victim of Palestinian terror: Taylor Force



owruz, meaning “new day,” the 2018 celebration of the ancient Persian Spring, brought no further resolution to the seven years of chaos in Syria. For US Allies, Israel, and the Syrian Kurds, it meant tests of their resolve in the face of new threats from Russia, Iran and Turkey.


On January 20th, Turkey and 25,000 Jihadists refitted as a Free Syrian Army launched an assault on the largely Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria. They sought to eject or destroy YPG/YPJ forces that it accused of being ‘terrorists” aligned with the Turkish Workers Party, the PKK. After two months of daily air attacks and artillery bombardments, the euphemistically misnamed Operation Olive Branch of Islamist Turkish President Erdogan seized Afrin. That forced the withdrawal of Kurdish, Yazidi and Christian civilians and the YPG/YPJ forces from their ancient Kurdish homeland. Erdogan then turned his sights on a possible confrontation with US special force and Kurdish–led Syrian Democratic Forces. The flashpoint was the bastion of Manbij, 60 miles to the east on the West bank of the Euphrates River. That set up an unprecedented conflict between two NATO member allies, Turkey and the US.


On February 7th, a reinforced battalion of Russian “mercenaries”, Assad regime tanks, Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia Popular Mobilization units crossed the Euphrates River into Deir Ez Zor in eastern Syria. Their objective was to seize the important oil and gas fields overrun by Kurdish–led Syrian Democratic Forces backed by US special forces and Marine artillery units. The attacking Russian and Iranian-backed Assad force was destroyed by vastly more powerful US air and ground bombardment. Leaders of the Russian mercenary force in Moscow threatened further attacks to dislodge the US backed Kurdish Syrian Democrat Forces. Thus, depriving the Kurds of a major geo-resource chip in a possible bid for regional autonomy.


On February 10th, an Iranian launched drone, based on a US intelligence version forced down seven years earlier, intruded Israeli airspace and was shot down. That triggered a massive IAF assault that took down nearly 60 percent of the Assad regime’s air defense system with the loss of an Israeli F-16 allegedly due to collateral shrapnel damage. That exchange was followed by a pin point mission against an Iranian precision missile base controlled by Iran’s Qod’s Force. Israeli PM Netanyahu had flown to Moscow on January 29th to express his concerns to Russian President Putin over Iran’s deepening occupation in Syria and threat on Israel’s northern frontier.


Speaking at the AIPAC plenary session March 6th, Netanyahu would stress to a crowd of 18,000 in Washington DC that, with Iran, “darkness is descending on our region.”


Tensions with the Palestinians were heightened with the announcement on February 23rd by the Trump White House of the opening of the US Embassy based at the existing East Jerusalem consulate in May. This will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish nation of Israel. Compounding that was the reshuffling of the Trump cabinet with the termination of Secretary of State Tillerson and his replacement with CIA director Mike Pompeo.


Against this background, we convened another in the periodic 1330am WEBY Middle East Round Table discussions with Daniel Diker Director of the Program to Counter Political Warfare at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) during his recent visit to the U.S.



Diker: This seems in line with the way the President does things. He uses social media, which may be surprising from an executive management standpoint, to notify the second most senior official in the administration that his services are no longer needed. However what is interesting from the point of view in the Middle East is that the replacement for Mr. Tillerson, CIA Director Pompeo, has been very much on the same page in terms of the Iranian regime threat with the President as well as with Prime Minister Netanyahu. That is a meeting of the minds when it comes to confronting that greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. I think that is positive takeaway in the appointment of CIA Director Pompeo as Secretary of State.



Gordon: Dan, let’s segue to some other news of the week. It appears that there is a dispute in the Knesset over conscription of Haredi Extreme Orthodox Jews that might result in a call for an early election in Israel. What is the nature of that dispute and why could it possibly bring down the Netanyahu coalition government?


Bates: Dan, if I understood what you said correctly . . . it is in the interest of the Prime Minister to have early elections. Why would that be and what is the standing of Netanyahu and the Likud party should there be early elections for the Knesset?


meaning together in Hebrewformed by a former Likud senior official, is down from nine to six. According to one poll, Defense Minister Lieberman and his party Yisrael Beiteinu, Israel My Home, another coalition partner, would not make the minimum threshold. It is in the interest of the leaders of other factions in the current Israeli government not to go to early elections, Mr. Netanyahu is the only leader whose numbers are very favorable to potentially go to new elections. However, it looks like a compromise has been worked out with the six leaders that formed this coalition of sixty-six seats out of a hundred and twenty in the Knesset.


Gordon: Dan, as you said earlier, Iran and its proxies virtually surround Israel’s frontiers in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Sinai threatening the Jewish nation’s annihilation. What message is Netanyahu sending to Iran and the West and how realistic are Israel’s options for contending with these Iranian threats, both near and far, especially its nuclear and ballistic missiles?


FoxNews to Mark Levin, his public address at AIPAC in Washington, he kept focusing on what he calls “Iran, Iran, Iran.” The Prime Minister has repeated this message for some timethat Israel will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear or develop nuclear weapons. That is the major concern of the Prime Minister. What is happening now across the Northern border Iran is moving naval as well as air force assets into Syria. It is building weapon factories in Syria and Lebanon across from Israel’s Northern border. This is clearly an unacceptable security challenge to Israel. Bear in mind that Israel has probably the best cyber capabilities in the world. I think the Prime Minister has messaged that to the Iranians in no uncertain terms. Former CIA Director Pompeo, now Secretary of State designee, has been an important messengeras has President Trumpwho believes that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon—that Iran must change its behavior, aggressive capabilities and objectives to conquer the Middle East and ultimately the world. Israel has many different ways of defending itself and it is using those different forms of defense not only to defend the Jewish state but defend the West together with the United States.


Gordon: Related to that the situation in Syria is chaos with the Turkish invasion to annihilate the Kurds in the enclave of Afrin and threats to the U.S. Forces at the strong point of Manbij on the Euphrates. Then there was the Russian mercenary and Assad attack on the U.S. and Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces at Deir Ez Zor in Eastern Syria. What are Israeli views on these complex and troubling developments?


Bates: Dan, the downing of the Israeli F-16 jet a few weeks ago notwithstanding, the IDF has been able to fly over Syria pretty much at will. Does that mean that the Russian supplied air defenses are not as good as we believe them to be or that the Russians are tolerating it?


Diker: Clearly, Israel and Russia are cooperating and have a good relationship. It is not the lack of capability and cooperation. Israel needs to defend itself. As you know Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken a number of trips to Moscow and has met with Russian President Putin about very close cooperation and understanding on actions against radical Islamic groups in Syria. There are no confusing signals and mistakes that can lead to serious consequences between Russia and Israel when there really is a strong working relationship between the two countries.


Gordon: Dan, what was behind the Trump Administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and will it be opened in time for the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel in May of this year?


Diker: This is one of the most substantial and even dramatic diplomatic developments in decades. President Trump made a campaign promise to the American people that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That is basically the fulfillment of a Congressional declaration in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act that the United States would support the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, succeeding Presidents over the last twenty years have tabled that decision for what they call national security reasons which was the Presidential prerogative. They were responding to a “dire warning” by the Arab world that this would cause unprecedented bloodshed, violence and chaos throughout the Middle East. What ended up happening when President Trump made both announcements, one recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the second announcing an imminent move of Americas embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, nothing happened. You saw the muted reaction by the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia which was telling. I think that the United States has done an excellent job strategically in reading the Middle East map and making a principled decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem which has been Israel’s capital since 1948. An injustice has been corrected and I think that President Trump personally deserves a tremendous amount of credit for having the courage to do what past Presidents perhaps declared, but were not able or willing to carry out the pledge.




Bates: Former President Jimmy Carter is constantly accusing Israel of being an apartheid state despite the facts simply don’t support that at all. Muslims not only can be full citizens of Israel, they vote, they serve in the military although service is not mandatory, they serve in the Knesset, they serve on the Supreme Court. What is apartheid about that? It is perhaps the biggest lie presently told about the State of Israel.


Diker: Yes, you are absolutely right. It is probably the greatest political deception of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that Israel is an apartheid state.


Gordon: Prime Minister Netanyahu has masterfully conducted diplomatic outreaches to China, India and Africa. How has that benefitted Israel?


Diker: Israel has a sort of a triangular foreign policy. There is a very strong integrated economic, diplomatic, and security policy. The Prime Minister ties that in you his remarks to a strong economy based on significant technological innovation that the world is using. Not only Europe, but China, India and Africa are all using Israeli innovations in agriculture, water desalinization and health care. That creates underlying conditions for improved diplomatic relations. China, for example, currently invests more than six billion dollars a year in Israeli technology. It is Israel’s second largest trading partner besides the United States. African countries are also using Israeli technologies as never before. In Israel there is a great sense of optimism at the highly skilled diplomacy the Prime Minister Netanyahu has forged using Israeli technology that has become of great interest to much of the developed as well as the less developed world. That has created much better conditions for relations with India, China and African countries. What we in Israel are hoping to see is leveraging economic trade and technological sharing, security and defense commerce to obtain international political support from these heretofore unfriendly countries towards Israel. Politically they have tended to vote with the Palestinians. What I think can be expected is a possible shift in the diplomatic positions of these countries to possibly become aligned with Israel economically via use of its technology. That is capped by the sharing of defense and security technology used to combat radical Islamic threats affecting the entire African continent, as well as, China, India and Latin America. and Dan Diker is Director of the Program to Counter Political Warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and you can find Dan Diker online at and at @DanDiker84. And I look forward to another Middle East round table discussion on another edition of Your Turn here on 1330 WEBY.


Listen to the 1330amWEBY Middle East Round Table Discussion with Dan Diker of the JCPA.



Jerome B Gordon is a Senior Vice President of the New English Review and author of The West Speaks, NER Press 2012. Mr. Gordon is a former US Army intelligence officer who served during the Viet Nam era. He was the co-host and co-producer of weekly The Lisa Benson Show for National Security that aired out of KKNT960 in Phoenix Arizona from 2013 to 2016. He is co-host and co-producer of the Middle East Round Table periodic series on 1330amWEBY, Northwest Florida Talk Radio, Pensacola, Florida.

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