“Syrian Track and Russian Mediator” by Ben Caspit

Here is a good take on Russia's proposed role in mediating Golan 

Syrian Track and Russian Mediator
Ma’ariv (p. 2) by Ben Caspit

A special envoy of President Putin has recently been delivering messages between Damascus and Jerusalem, in a dramatic Russian effort to revive the negotiations between Israel and Syria, reflecting growing Russian involvement in the peace process. The emissary is  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov, who is also President Putin’s special envoy to the Middle East. 

Senior political sources last night told Ma’ariv that at least twice in the past few weeks Sultanov visited Damascus, where he spoke personally with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and that Sultanov also visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where he delivered reports to senior officials, probably Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his aides.

Apparently Sultanov is conveying messages between Assad and senior Israeli officials, including Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Apparently Sultanov’s visits are being kept secret in order to avoid angering the Americans. It now emerges that Olmert’s sudden visit to Moscow in the dead of night a few weeks ago was also connected with this diplomatic demarche. Prime Minister and former foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov has also been in Syria and conveyed messages between Damascus and Jerusalem. 

At the same time, it has been learned that the Americans have probably agreed to the Russian demand and will allow a conference to be held as a continuation of the Annapolis conference, three months from now in Moscow. At this conference the international monitoring apparatus is intended to receive a report on the progress of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but the Russians also hope to open the Israeli-Syrian track officially at that event.

In the contacts with Damascus, Israel has been making discreet efforts to learn Syria’s position on whether it may agree to grant Israel a long-term lease over the Golan Heights. Israel also asked whether Assad is prepared, in a peace treaty with Israel, to take action against terrorism and abandon the axis that he established with Teheran.

In recent private conversations between Israel and Russia, the Russians have been saying, in the name of President Putin, that only Russia is capable of mediating between Israel and Syria. They say that President Assad trusts the Russian government, and especially President Putin. “We have real influence in Damascus and we can take steps to revive the negotiations with the Syrians under special conditions of trust,” one of the Russian diplomats said. Well-informed Israeli officials say there is truth to the Russian argument. “The Syrians suspect the Americans just as much as the Iranians do, and claim that all that interests Washington is bringing down the regime. With Moscow, in contrast, the dialogue is more transparent and intimate, and therefore reaches a business-like level,” one of the Israeli sources said.

Russia’s willingness to help on the Syrian track reflects Russian’s growing involvement in the Middle East in general. Recently there have been reports of closer relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which may include consultation and cooperation which did not exist in the past. It has also emerged that the Russians, who promised to suspend the supply of nuclear fuel rods to Iran for the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, have told their Israeli counterparts that they intend to supply these rods in the near future and will not violate their contract with Iran. The Russians say that the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb lies not in the reactor at Bushehr, but in the facilities for enrichment of uranium by means of centrifuges. Nevertheless the Russian track is only one of Israel’s channels of contact with Damascus. Another important avenue to which President Shimon Peres referred is the Turkish track.

In the meantime it has emerged that there are substantive disagreements between Israel and the US administration over the timetable for the Iranian nuclear bomb. Israeli intelligence believes that Iran will pass the point of no return next year or at the beginning of 2009, but the Americans think that Iran is still a long way from achieving a military nuclear capability, and that the point of no return will not be before 2012, at the end of the first term of the next president, or that of his successor.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov , who met Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington, had a long talk with him on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Moscow May Host Middle East Follow-Up
(By Robin Wright and Michael Abramowitz, The Washington Post)

Russia and the United States are tentatively planning a second Middle East peace conference, in Moscow in early 2008, with major parties hoping to begin a comprehensive peace effort that would include direct talks between Israel and Syria, according to U.S., Russian, Arab and European officials.

Comments (5)

Helena Cobban said:

Good catch on the Maariv piece. I blogged here Tuesday about both the possibility that the three non-US members of the Quartet’s Greek Chorus (of whom Russia is of course one) may want to have their own roles in the drama– and about the importance of the Syrian track. So I was really interested to read the Wright/Abramowitz piece this morning. Ben Caspit has a lot more details, though.

I was at a briefing with the talented Israeli peacenik Daniel Levy today. He said one of the (un-named) foreign ministers present at Annapolis had noted the point at the end of the Israeli-Palestinian joint declaration where the sides said they agreed that the implementation of the Road Map, which is unhelpfully defined as a precondition for the start of implementing any final-status agreement between them, would be monitored by the US (alone), and the US would be the judge of whether it had been satisfactory… So that foreign minister reportedly said, “So the US alone gets to be the judge. Does that make the rest of us the jury?” Personally, I suspect that was not Condi’s intention. But the question of what the role of the non-US members of the Quartet will be as time progresses is indeed an interesting one.

Fascinating to see from Caspit that that old fox Yevgeny Primakov is making a bit of a comeback, meanwhile.

November 30th, 2007, 3:22 am


majedkhaldoun said:

George Bush said the USA will be the judge,if the enemy is the judge how could the court be fair?

November 30th, 2007, 4:21 am


norman said:

Majed ,
You want your rights , Fight for them or axcept what they give you.

November 30th, 2007, 4:29 am


Shual said:


“may want to have their own roles”. They had their own roles, but .. The Syrian participation in Annapolis is seen as a great success for german FM Frank Walter Steinmeier, SPD who visited Damascus regularly against intern and extern critsism. His fellow party member Hannelore Wieczoreck-Zeul promised to pay €34Million assistance [water-managment, refugees, urban development] in August 07 a.s.o.. The coalition-leading CDU under chancellor Merkel cried out against the actions of junior-partner SPD: “betrayal of EU-positions against Syria”. Now, after Annapolis it seems that the question of different strategies is solved and some players can play their role more active than before.

“So the US alone gets to be the judge. Does that make the rest of us the jury?” – It could not be a german who said that. For example, ret-gen James L. Jones, who lived here for years and who has very good contacts, can be seen as a compromise between american judging and european supervising. On the other hand: The first phase will be focused on “security” and who pays for that will be the judge. I have not seen russians or italians paying €60Million for the creation of a PA-security-army. Again Steinmeier formulated the role of the “non-US quartett-members” at Annapolis. [economic aid + assistance if needed in the training of security-personnel.]

November 30th, 2007, 4:30 am


Chase_001 said:

The growing Russian presence in the ME will surely going to change a thing or two. Most importantly, and I am being reasonably hopeful here, it will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to repeat the Iraqi adventure in Syria or even Iran, and by either the US or Israel. Ruling out military operations from the political calculations in the region is in itself a great advantage. But I doubt it can do anything more than sustaining a status-que. Russia still hasn’t got enough leverage in the region to play a more active role. I can’t imagine anything new it could bring to the negotiation tables between Syria and Israel. It will be another life-long on and off meetings that will eventually lose sight of their final purpose in the detail and collapse. Or did anything change since Clinton?

Neither of the two parties, Syrians and Israelis, are under no pressure to change. For both, the status-que is a much safer choice than any proposed peace, and for both it needs “change or die” situation before they venture into any kind of a deal. They’d play ball for a while and that’s about it.

November 30th, 2007, 10:16 am


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