By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
The war in Syria has radically changed the equilibria of the whole Middle East. In fact it has ratified the new role of the Russian Federation, as well as the decline of the United States as reference power both for Israel and the “moderate” Sunni Arabs.
Finally it has established the Jewish State’s position and status as global player in the whole region. The new relationship between Israel and Egypt must be seen in this context. In fact, on July 10 last, the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, paid a visit to Jerusalem and met with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu twice..
The two statesmen analyzed the Palestinian issue, in particular, since the Israeli President hopes that Egypt will be in a position to act as a mediator for reaching final peace between Israel and the Palestinian entity.
The Egyptian President, Al Sisi, plans to reach a two-State solution for the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, this was not the only issue on the agenda.
In fact, the discussion between the Egyptian Minister and the Israeli Prime Minister mainly focused on Syria and Bashar El Assad’s ability to play a pivotal role in the fight against the Islamist jihad and ISIS. After six years of frozen relations between Turkey and Israel, even President Erdogan has resumed contacts with Jerusalem, by ensuring the exchange of intelligence, as well as strategic and military cooperation with this country.
Furthermore the Turkish leader has secretly sent the Heads of his intelligence services to meet their Syrian counterparts in Bashar’s government, so as to dispel and put an end to any misunderstanding and start an exchange of information and, in the future, of weapon systems.
At the same time, President Erdogan has used the Algerian mediators to reopen the channels with the Egyptian government. Hence a Sunni front is emerging, equal and opposite to the Shiite axis which has so far supported Assad’s Alawite regime, also during wartime.
Israel does not want Iran’s hegemony over Syria and the new equilibrium in Syria between the Sunni front – not opposed to Assad – and the Shiite region, which has always supported the Alawite regime, would stabilize the situation. In the future, it would also ensure the security of the Golan Heights and, possibly, of the Israeli-Lebanese border along the Litani river. It is also worth recalling the very recent Egyptian purchase – funded by Saudi Arabia – of a French-made Mistral-class helicopter carrier. Another one will be supplied late this year.
It is a real game changer for the Middle East: the Mistral class is equipped with missile defenses; it is an assault ship and can carry 16 helicopters in addition to a battalion of 40 Leclerc tanks with 450 soldiers.
Therefore, together with Russia, Egypt becomes the only country possessing a helicopter carrier in the region and hence it is able to patrol and defend the Sinai peninsula, the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Suez, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba – a defense which is suitable both against Iran and the jihadists. Hence Israel can negotiate part of its external protection with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates against Iran and ISIS.
Considering that the war in Syria and the almost simultaneous rapprochement between Israel and Russia are a win-win game for the Jewish State, we must study not only the rearrangement of the Middle East framework, but also the changes and transformations of the Golan region.On July 5 last, Israel hit the headquarters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Southern Syria, in response to artillery operations on the Golan Heights by the Syrian Army.
Hezbollah stated that Israeli helicopters had attacked Syrian Army’s forces in Quneitra and, indeed, the IDF strikes had hit a building of the Syrian Ministry of Finance which, however, hosted the Iranian Pasdaran’s headquarters.
The issue is relevant and does not regard only the presence of Iranian forces: the whole Syrian border with the Jewish State and Jordan has now fallen prey to ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, namely the Syrian “section” of Al Qaeda.
In fact, along the Syrian border of the Golan region, the Army of Khaled Bin Al Walid is operating, namely a new jihadist group, combining ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, led by Abu Abdullah Al Madani, a Palestinian coming from Damascus and a veteran of Al Qaeda.
Al Madani has the financial resources to buy the chemical weapons of the old Syrian Army, an asset that many jihadi groups can no longer buy. He is selecting “rebels” for suicide operations within Israel and he is finally dealing with Al Nusra, with a view to penetrating the Golan Heights and threatening the Jewish State with the old chemical weapons of Hafez al-Assad’s arsenal.
Hence Israel “calls” – in the poker game sense – the intentions of the Sunni countries, threatened by the jihad at least to the same extent as Israel. It uses Egypt as a “bridge” for this new Middle East configuration. It makes President Erdogan’s Turkey go back into the anti-jihadist system and maintains excellent relations with Russia, which is now the only major power in the region.
Another win-win game, especially if the Turkey-Egypt-Saudi Arabia-Emirates axis is truly effective in the fight against jihadism.
About the author:
*Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and Khashoggi Holding’s advisor. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy.