- Russia and Iran expand efforts to prop up Assad regime, raising concerns among US, Israel, Gulf allies
Russia and Iran are coordinating their efforts to bolster the weakened Assad regime, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal on Monday. Russia has further expanded its military build-up in Syria. On Tuesday it was reported that Russia has increased the number of warplanes at a base near Latakia to 28. Moscow also has attack helicopters, several tanks, and 500 marines stationed there, and has begun flying drones across Syria in surveillance missions. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal reported that satellite photos reveal the development of two additional bases north of Latakia. According to a US defense official, Russia’s moves are a “manifestation” of the Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani’s second trip to Moscow and evidence of an “Iran nexus.” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also visited Russia last month to discuss the situation in Syria and Tehran has expanded direct support for the Assad regime, deploying hundreds of elite fighters from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Syria in recent weeks.
The US, Israel, and Gulf allies have reacted with concern. Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “continued military support for the [Assad] regime by Russia or any other country risks the possibility of attracting more extremists and entrenching Assad and hinders the way for resolution" of the conflict. Gulf States have similarly opposed foreign support for Assad, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir described the recent Russian military build-up as an "escalation."
Israel fears that the Russian presence may interfere with Israeli efforts to prevent advanced weapons systems from being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is also concerned that sophisticated Russian weapons may end up in the hands of Hezbollah, as has happened in the past. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow on Monday to express these concerns. He told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “Iran, under the auspices of the Syrian army, is trying to build a second terror front against us from the Golan. Our policy is to prevent these weapons transfers, and to prevent the formation of a terror front and attacks against us from the territory of the Golan.” Following the meeting, Netanyahu claimed that a mechanism to avoid military confrontation and prevent misunderstandings was established.
A Palestinian activist gave an anti-Israel lecture to a third grade class at a public elementary school in New York last week, Prof. William Jacobson of the Legal Insurrection blog reported Sunday. Bassem Tamimi spoke to a class at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca, apparently at the invitation of a local anti-Israel activist, Ariel Gold. Tamimi’s talk was politically charged, according to Facebook posts by adults who attended. Local activist Mary Anne Grades Flores posted that “3rd grade classes listened and spoke about Human Rights for children in Palestine with Bassem Tamimi, father of 4 children, from Nabi Saleh, who’s [sic] village land has been stolen by Israeli settlers.”
Jacobson wrote to the school to determine how the talk was arranged, asking why such a speaker was appropriate for third graders, and whether any pro-Israel speakers have spoken to the grade. He has not yet received a response. Jacobson provided a brief background of Tamimi’s activism.
Tamimi is best known for his use of children, including his own, for media purposes. The game goes like this: Tamimi’s children and other children from the village of Nabi Saleh are encouraged to confront Israeli soldiers in the hope of provoking a reaction. The children are surrounded by a phalanx of photographers and videographers waiting for the viral moment when the Israeli soldier reacts, which then is fed to the media through the Tamimi media operation and international activists who often participate.
Tamimi’s son, Mohammad, was the subject of a recent media frenzy after he threw rocks at Israeli soldiers and when they moved to arrest him, a soldier was set upon by local women and children, all as the video rolled. Rock throwing has become a serious problem, with numerous motorists killed and injured as a result, yet it is an activity Tamimi encourages (for which he has been arrested).