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Islam and the West ( 4 Dec 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Why should Muslims face double standards?: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 5 December 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

December 5, 2015

Why should Muslims face double standards?

By Fareed Zakaria

How Cameron defeated Assad’s logic on Syria

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Chicken-and-egg question over Syria: Assad or ISIS first?

By Mohamed Chebarro

Iran fighters dying in Syria, and a strategic shift

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Fear of and resistance to Syrian refugees in the US

By Jonathan Hafetz

Putin and Netanyahu: Minds alike over Syrian skies

By Geoffrey Aronson

 

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Why should Muslims face double standards?

By Fareed Zakaria

December 5, 2015

While I believe that Muslims do bear a responsibility to speak up, non-Muslims also have a responsibility not to make assumptions about them based on such a small minority.

The most recent act of horrific violence in America - in San Bernardino, California - was perpetrated by a Muslim man and woman. There are around 3 million Muslims in the United States, almost all of whom are law-abiding citizens. How should they react to the actions of the couple who killed 14 people this week?

The most commonly heard response is that Muslims must immediately and loudly condemn these acts of barbarity. But Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim-American leader, argues eloquently that this is unfair. She made her case to NBC's Chuck Todd.

"According to the FBI, the majority of domestic terrorist attacks are actually committed by white, male Christians. ... When those things occur, we don't suspect other people who share their faith and ethnicity of condoning them. We assume that these things outrage them just as much as they do anyone else. And we have to afford that same assumption of innocence to Muslims."

Muslims face a double standard, but I understand why. Muslim terrorists don't just happen to be Muslim. They claim to be motivated by religion, cite religious justifications for their actions, and tell their fellow Muslims to follow in their bloody path. There are groups around the world spreading this religiously infused ideology and trying to seduce Muslims to become terrorists. In these circumstances, it is important for the majority of Muslims who profoundly disagree with jihad to speak up.

But it is also important to remember that there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet. If you took the total number of terrorism deaths last year - around 30,000 - and assumed that 50 people were involved in planning each one (a vastly exaggerated estimate) -- it would still add up to less than 0.1 per cent of the world's Muslims.

While I believe that Muslims do bear a responsibility to speak up, non-Muslims also have a responsibility not to make assumptions about them based on such a small minority. Individuals should be judged as individuals, and not placed under suspicion for some "group characteristic." It is dehumanizing and un-American to do otherwise.

It also misunderstands how religion works in people's lives. Imagine a Bangladeshi taxi driver in New York. He has not, in any meaningful sense, chosen to be Muslim. He was born into a religion, grew up with it, and like hundreds of millions of people around the world in every faith, follows it out of a mixture of faith, respect for his parents and family, camaraderie with his community, and inertia. His knowledge of the sacred texts is limited. He is trying to make a living and provide for his family. For him, Islam provides identity and psychological support in a hard life. This is what religion looks like for the vast majority of Muslims.

But increasingly Americans seem to view Muslims as actively propagating a dangerous ideology, like communist activists. It's not just Donald Trump. Republican candidates are vying with each other to make insinuations and declarations about Islam and all Muslims. And it's not just on the right. The television personality and outspoken liberal Bill Maher made the expansive generalisation recently that, "If you are in this religion, you probably do have values that are at odds [with American values]."

What is most bizarre is to hear this anti-Muslim rhetoric described as brave truth-telling. Trump insists that he will not be silenced on this issue. Chris Christie says that he will not follow a "politically correct" national security policy. This feeds growing prejudice. The reality is that Muslims are today the most despised minority in America. Their faith is constantly criticized, they face insults, discrimination and a dramatic rise in acts of violence, as Max Fisher of Vox has detailed superbly. And the leading Republican candidate has flirted with the idea of registering all Muslims, a form of collective punishment that has not been seen since the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s.

This is the first time that I can recall watching politicians pander to mobs - and then congratulate themselves for their political courage.

Fareed Zakaria is the host of the CNN show Fareed Zakaria GPS

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/editorials-columns/why-should-muslims-face-double-standards

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How Cameron defeated Assad’s logic on Syria

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

4 December 2015

I recently read a statement by Saudi Arabian diplomat Prince Turki al-Faisal that carries several meanings. He said: “Europe complains of the big number of Syrian refugees. The solution is simple. Take one Syrian refugee, that is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and you’d be done with the problem of another 10 million Syrian refugees.”

This is literally true, because the struggle in Syria is because of Assad. It is also true in general terms, as there are direct solutions, instead of the complicated ones that politicians have sought that are irrelevant to the original problem.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement calling for supporting the fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and cooperating with them falls within the context of a direct solution. While arguing the case for military action against ISIS, he said there are around “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters – principally the Free Syrian Army – who do not belong to extremist groups and with whom we can coordinate attacks on [ISIS].”

He clarified that the majority of the FSA are soldiers that defected from the Syrian army and have nothing to do with extremist ideology.

10-hour debate

Cameron’s statements came during a 10-hour debate in the House of Commons regarding Syria, in which the PM attempted to convince MPs to approve British airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. The debate between the British politicians was a heated one as usual. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attempted to thwart Cameron’s proposal by granting the BBC an interview that was broadcast the same day as the debate in the House of Commons; however, he failed.

Cameron defeated Assad’s logic, and MPs voted for military intervention. His justifications for intervention and vision of a solution are clear. Cameron sees that the problem in Syria is in both the Syrian regime as well as terrorist organizations. As long as fighting ISIS has become necessary for the security of Britain, Europe and the world, the solution is in supporting Syrian nationalists, like the FSA, and this can be the basis of a solution for the Syrian struggle.

Cooperating with Assad will fail

The solution which the Russians resorted to, and which some western governments no longer mind, is cooperating with the Assad regime to fight ISIS. However, this solution will fail as even if, in the best case scenario, it resolves half of the problem and eliminates terrorist groups, it actually maintains the origin of the problem and the major source of tension, namely the regime which has become the Syrian people’s enemy, after it killed 300,000 people, displaced 10 million others and destroyed most cities.

Therefore, no matter what they do, terrorism will emerge again as long as the cause is there. What Cameron is calling for is supporting Syrian nationalist powers that are willing to fight terrorists to defend their land, and can establish a new governance that represents all the Syrian people.

It’s true that the situation in Syria has become complicated; however, resolving it via the Russian approach of fighting ISIS and letting the Assad regime rule further complicates it. This proposal actually adds fuel to fire. We think the Russians who adopt this proposal, which is similar to Iran’s, will change their stance now that they deal with facts on the ground. Cameron indirectly spoke about this on Wednesday when he said the Russians have also begun to deal with the FSA and to recognize its presence.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/12/04/How-Cameron-defeated-Assad-s-logic-on-Syria.html

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Chicken-and-egg question over Syria: Assad or ISIS first?

By Mohamed Chebarro

4 December 2015

The news of the past few days was full of debate over whether the UK should extend its air strikes into Syria in its pursuit of ISIS.

After the Paris attacks, Germany and the UK were somehow pushed into action to show solidarity with their ally France.

The start of the UK air strikes came just hours after the marathon debate in parliament, in which British MPs finally voted to support David Cameron’s call to action.

To have more nations aligned in the resolve to fight ISIS should be welcomed. But in my view the strikes of a few French Rafale and British Tornado jets will do little, as long as they are part of a half-hearted Western strategy on Syria, the situation in Iraq, and the root causes that led to ISIS flourishing in those two countries and beyond.

Countries led by the U.S. remained idle for much of the past four years, while the Syrian people were calling for the end of the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship and his family’s ruthless 40-year rule.

The old questions

And both before and after the Paris attacks, the questions remain the same. Should we remove ISIS or Assad first - the chicken or the egg?

How is it best to alleviate the suffering, and stop regime barrel bombs destroying Syrian cities and people?

How to persuade Moscow to be a fair intermediary, and align its efforts with the international community and stop its blind support for Assad, his Iranian allies and crony Lebanese militias?

How is it best to slow the influx of refugees in the European Union? Is it by giving Turkey’s Erdogan billions of dollars to control the floodgates, or by finding a quota to distribute the refugees fairly across Europe?

Should we close extremist mosques in European cities, and deport dual-nationals to their native countries? Or should we regenerate those European suburbs where extremism and hate crimes flourish along with the poverty and unemployment faced by many second-generation Muslims?

All of these questions are important. But answering them - just like making the resolve to bomb ISIS targets in Syria - will do little to change the situation, unless the world comes together to face the crisis in Syria collectively.

Why Syria?

Undoing the evil brutality of the Assad regime will bring light at the end of the tunnel for the Syrian people, half of whom are displaced.

By driving forward a political settlement to the Syrian crisis, there could be an opportunity to reignite a modus vivendi – or agreement to disagree – between the U.S. and Russia.

In so doing maybe the EU would revisit the sanctions against Russia that were imposed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

Iran too would be tested by the removal of Assad, especially in light of the nuclear deal with the West. Is Tehran a regional player interested in stability, rather than a power prone to lighting the fuse in neighboring countries and then posing as a bona fide fire fighter?

Should Assad be removed and Syria’s unity and plurality insured, Saudi Arabia will have more time to continue its long fight against extremists in the heart of its society and the wider Muslim world.

And a deal for a united multi-ethnic Syria will appease the Turks, given their worries over the alternative possibility of an Alawite mini-state and Kurdish autonomous region right on its borders.

A solution in Syria would also drive further Iraqi reform to share power, and clip back on the sectarian politics that alienate its Sunni Arabs and Kurdish population.

A united front

A lot was said in the UK parliamentary debate. But the words of shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn captured the picture best. In urging the need for air strikes, in defiance of his Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Benn said the UK is “faced by fascists”, before adding of his own party: “We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road.”

Benn evoked the values that Western democracies have been spreading for decades, and the importance of defeating ISIS, just as fascism and Nazism were defeated before.

And, in my opinion, the quickest way to do that is by finding a solution in Syria that involves the removal of Assad – which, in so doing, would remove the toxic environment in which ISIS spreads.

In Syria, it should no longer be a question of which should come first, ISIS or Assad. Just like the chicken-or-egg debate, the answer is clear.

A united front and major diplomatic effort or summit is needed to convince everybody that the time has come to do away with the Assad regime, and with it ISIS and all the forces bent on destroying the world as we know it today.

Unfortunately, I doubt the Obama administration is likely to produce such leadership. For Putin’s action in Syria has humbled his outlook – making any future meeting on Assad’s fate look even less likely.

Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/world/2015/12/03/Chicken-and-egg-question-over-Syria-Assad-or-ISIS-first-.html

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Iran fighters dying in Syria, and a strategic shift

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Friday, 4 December 2015

The number of Iranian fighters dying in Syria has reportedly risen in recent weeks. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that several members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were among the fighters killed in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo over just a few days.

This indicates that Iran is increasingly relying on the deployment of IRGC members instead of the elite Quds Force. So far, more than 100 IRGC fighters including top generals have been killed in the Syrian war. It is the task of the Quds Force to conduct extraterritorial operations and foreign military missions. It has an estimated 15,000 fighters, while IRGC has over 100,000 members and it controls the paramilitary Basij militia with over 350,000 active members and reservists.

It follows that, after the nuclear deal, significant transformation in Iran’s military is actively occurring, which suggests a manifestation of Iran’s military empire across the region, more aggressive foreign policy and a reassertion of Tehran’s regional supremacy.

While Iranian leaders project that they are fighting ISIS, Iranian forces are not anywhere close to an ISIS stranglehold. Instead, they appear to be battling Syrian rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, to force them to retreat or prevent them from capturing more territories in Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus. Iran is increasing its boots on the ground in those cities, fearing the fall of these strategic locations to the hands of opposition.

Domestic view of Iran’s intervention

The popularity of Iran’s role in Syria has been low among the Iranian educated middle class. Nima, an Iranian human rights activist from Shiraz, pointed out that “The government is finding ways to justify its increasing military budget, and IRGC and Basij recruitments for the wars in Syria and Iraq. This happening while Iranian people are facing economic difficulty and the unemployment rate has been increasing under Rowhani’s presidency.”

However, in the last few months, Iran has utilized ISIS, and events such as the Paris attacks, in order to justify its actions to the Iranian people and by inciting fear that if the Islamic Republic does not fight in Syria and Iraq, Sunni radical groups will overrun Tehran and Shiite communities.

The shift in Iran’s official and semi-official media reports on Tehran’s involvement in Syria comes as a surprise. Iranian media and officials used to characterize the IRGC and Quds Force involvement in Syria as solely advisory, involving tactical assistance, strategic planning and intelligence.

But in the last few weeks, there have been more reports of public funerals. Even the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has become more public. He tweeted about the death of one of the Iranian fighters in Syria, posting a picture of himself with the “martyred” family expressing his condolences.

Tactical shift

There exist several reasons behind this tactical shift and the increasing deaths of Iranian fighters.

The setbacks that Assad’s army and the Quds Force encountered in early 2015, mainly due to the rise of ISIS and the rebel groups’ advancements, propelled Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, to visit Putin and ask for military help. The Islamic Republic pushed for Russia’s military assistance and involvement in Syria.

Nevertheless, Russia’s military superiority and interventions in Latakia did undermine Iran’s influence in Syria. By resorting to public acknowledgments of Iranian fighters operating on the ground in Syria, Tehran needed to reassert its presence in Syria.

In addition, the increasing Russian airstrikes are coordinated with the rising deployment of IRGC fighters on the ground. This inevitably meant a rise in the Iranian casualties. Assad, on the other hand, has become increasingly dependent on Iran’s Quds Force, the IRGC and Russia.

Furthermore, before the rise of ISIS, Iran played down its role in Syria because Tehran did not have a legitimate excuse to justify its presence there. Iranian leaders were also worried about direct confrontation with the West and other regional powers, and attempted to prevent the scuttling of nuclear negotiations. But after the nuclear deal was reached, after ISIS grabbed the global headlines, Khamenei’s policy shifted.

Finally, in the pursuit of hegemonic ambitions, Iran seizes any opportunity to reassert its regional supremacy, and power. By making it public that Iranian troops are present in Syria, Iran is claiming its crucial role in the conflict. Iran is also offering itself to the West as an indispensable regional player and partner in fighting extremists groups. As a result, the West would not have any viable option other than turning a blind eye to Iran’s regional interventionist policies.

Although some policy analysts and scholars argue that the increasing death toll of Iranian fighters might change the Islamic Republic’s calculation in supporting the Syrian army, it is less likely to witness any change in Iran’s policy of backing Assad. Tehran’s stakes in keeping Assad’s in power are high. Iran can afford several more years in assisting the Syrian army militarily, financially, strategically and with intelligence.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @MajidRafizadeh

english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/world/2015/12/03/Iran-fighters-dying-in-Syria-and-a-strategic-shift.html

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Fear of and resistance to Syrian refugees in the US

By Jonathan Hafetz

04 Dec 2015

It did not take long for the atrocities in Paris to prompt exaggerated responses that elevate political grandstanding over sensible responses to the terrorist threat.

In the United States, the prize for overreaching so far goes to the House of Representatives, which voted to ratchet up screening procedures for Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

The "American Security against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015", which the House passed on November 19, has no rational basis given existing safeguards, fans the flames of xenophobia, and undermines efforts to confront the dangers posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation should it pass the Senate.

Refugees coming to the US now face a lengthy and detailed review process. They must first satisfy the United Nations High Commissioner for registration and interview process, which examines biometric data and biographic information.

Those who clear this initial hurdle must then undergo intensive review by the US Department of Homeland Security, which checks biometric information against multiple US government databases. Applicants face additional layers of scrutiny by several other agencies. The process takes on average two years to complete.

According to an analysis by the Cato Institute, the risk of a suspected terrorist slipping through this vetting process is virtually nil, making the threat from Syrian refugees "hyperbolically overexaggerated".

It is far more likely that a future terrorist would either be born in the US or attempt to enter the country on a student or tourist visa.

The proposed legislation would require the director of the FBI, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence to certify that each applicant from Syria and Iraq does not pose a threat to the US.

This certification process adds unnecessary layers of review. It is intended not only to bog down a process that is already prolonged, but also to deter officials from approving applicants from Syria and Iraq by requiring that they personally attest that those applicants pose no threat.

The House measure is also discriminatory. It applies exclusively to refugees from Syria and Iraq, creating new barriers for those most in need of resettlement.

It encourages a rising tide of xenophobia that reflexively tars innocent civilians from these countries as terrorists. Perversely, these are the very individuals suffering daily from the violence inflicted by ISIL and others.

So far, more than two dozen Republican governors have stated they do not want Syrian refugees coming to their respective states and vowed to block their entry.

Presidential politics have proven a fertile ground for bias. Donald Trump has likened Syrian refugees to a "Trojan horse" and Jeb Bush has proposed that the US should impose a religious litmus test on refugees by concentrating on helping Christians fleeing Syria (and not Muslims).

Chris Christie, New Jersey governor and presidential candidate, has threatened to withhold all financial support and services to refugees resettled in that state.

The backlash against refugees evokes painful memories of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, a stark reminder of how the toxic combination of fear and prejudice can lead to gross abuses of individual rights.

Closing the door on Syrians fleeing violence and persecution is not just pointless, it also harms security. Exaggerated responses play into the hands of the extremist propaganda utilised by ISIL and other terrorist groups. They taint the US' reputation abroad and strengthen terrorist recruiting strategies.

France, which faces a greater immediate threat from terrorists from Syria crossing its borders than the US, has declared that it will continue to honour its commitment to accept 30,000 refugees from Syria.

The Obama administration, which in September announced that the US would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees, appears determined to stand by its commitment. Mounting resistance, however, has thrown fulfillment of that pledge into doubt.

The US has long committed to assisting those fleeing persecution. That commitment is enshrined in long-standing international agreements - the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and 1967 UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees - and in domestic law.

Measures such as the House bill do more than undermine those commitments and the values they represent. They show how the fear of terrorism - stoked by politicians - can erode reason itself.

The House bill - along with states' opposition to resettlement - diverts attention from the real need: to develop policies that increase security in the short term and contain or eliminate ISIL and other threats in the long run.

Moreover, they perpetuate a reliance on tough-sounding but ultimately senseless measures that undermine those very goals.

Jonathan Hafetz is Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law.

aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/12/fear-resistance-syrian-refugees-151203100143194.html

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Putin and Netanyahu: Minds alike over Syrian skies

By Geoffrey Aronson

04 Dec 2015

The destruction of Syria has sparked the diplomatic and military equivalent of a feeding frenzy. Israel is not least among the players in this whirlwind game.

"Syria is a dead state, and Israel must understand this and prepare accordingly," Amos Gilad, the powerful director of the political security division in Israel's defence ministry, recently explained. "[Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad's grip on the country is faltering. It is a land without rule."

The Russian campaign to be the main arbiter of Syria's future offers Israel both opportunities and challenges. Israel is seeking to strengthen and protect, and if possible, expand its power to confront the anarchy on its northern border.

An early verdict suggests that Israel - with Russia itself and the Assad regime - is one of the winners of the Russian initiative.

Israeli and Russia are not simply "de-conflicting". They are "coordinating" in Syrian airspace. A well-informed Arab diplomat with wide-ranging regional experience explained to me that Israel and Russia are conducting joint reconnaissance and intelligence gathering and evaluation over Syria.

"The planes are flying together. Information is relayed to the Russian centre at Latakia, where it is evaluated and passed on to Israel," he said.

Conflict points?

Such advantages are, however, tempered by challenges.

On the critical strategic level, the Russian deployment means that Israel's long-standing demand for freedom of military action in the region has become yet more complicated.

Control of the airspace over its enemies - in an arc spanning over thousands of kilometres - has long been at the heart of Israel's expansive security doctrine.

Constraints on Israel's air operations first appeared during the Gulf War when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was compelled by Washington not to respond to Saddam's threats of Scud attacks on Tel Aviv.

More recently, with the pressure from US President Barack Obama, the White House contributed to a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

Today Russian aircraft are flying combat missions just seconds away from Israel's metropolitan heartland for the first time since Russian pilots engaged the Israeli air force in combat over Egypt during the War of Attrition that followed the Six-Day War.

In addition, Moscow's decision to deploy S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries in Syria has established the infrastructure for a Russian "no fly zone" over an area that includes Israel north and east of Tel Aviv, Cyprus, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stronghold of Raqqa.

No wonder why, as soon as Israel got wind of the Russia's direct military involvement in Syria, Netanyahu and his senior military and intelligence advisers hopped on a plane to Moscow.

Maturing alliance

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu are like cougars in a cage, wary of each other but determined to establish a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Since their first meeting in September, Netanyahu has won Putin's recognition of long-standing core Israeli security interests in Syria and the means by which it protects them.

"During our meeting in Moscow," Netanyahu recently explained, "I stood up for our principles: Israel attacks whoever attacks it. We will not allow Iran to transfer deadly weapons to Hezbollah from Syrian territory, or at least we will do everything in our power to prevent it; and we will not allow Iran to open an additional terrorist front against us in the Golan."

In a series of ongoing discussions that continue at senior levels, the alliance on Syria is maturing. There are multiple dimensions to this effort: in their first meeting in September and in subsequent talks since then, the clarity over guiding policies for both parties has been achieved.

A working system of political and military consultation has been established, at both operational and senior military and intelligence levels. "Rules of the game" being played by Netanyahu and Putin in Syria continue to be refined and expanded.

The "rules of the game" include the following. Moscow accepts Israel's demand to oppose the creation of a "second front" on the Golan Heights by Iran and Hezbollah, and it accepts Israel's continuing military operations to prevent this. Moscow recognises and accepts Israel's freedom of action to pre-empt the supply from Syria of weapons to Hezbollah.

No doubt Moscow's allies in Beirut and Tehran will want an explanation as to how Putin intends to reconcile the contradictory objectives of its Israeli and Iranian/Hezbollah allies.

More cooperation

In operational terms, Israeli planes continued to fly unchallenged - probably throughout Syrian airspace and not only along the Golan frontier - "cooperating" with Russia and "de-conflicting" with Washington.

In recent days, a major Israeli military exercise was announced, offering a real world opportunity to put joint understandings to an operational test. Netanyahu declared himself "very satisfied" with the new relationship, and Putin confirmed this positive assessment.

Israel's forgiving response to Russian violations of Israel's airspace (probably over the occupied Golan Heights) highlights the good relations between the two countries. Left unsaid was the obvious comparison with Turkey's aggressive response to Russian infractions.

In another practical test of the new understandings, Israel also continues to hit Hezbollah efforts to transport arms via Syria. During the last week of November, there were reports that Israel carried out four air strikes on the Syrian regime and Hezbollah positions in the area of Syria's Qalamoun mountains.

Cooperation with the Russian air campaign necessarily signals that Israel has moved far more explicitly than has previously been the case in the pro-Damascus, anti-opposition column. By doing so, Jerusalem joins not only allies in Amman and Cairo, but also enemies in Dahiya, Baghdad and Tehran in the bloody contest for Damascus.

In the process, Syria has become yet another arena of disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem. Obama continues to oppose Putin's initiative and anxiously predicts its failure. The US' refrain, most recently declared by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter: "We can't associate ourselves with what they're doing now because it's doomed to fail."

Israel, on the other hand, views Putin's move on the whole as a positive step, and sees it as an opportunity to cement its interests in the post-Assad Syria.

Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle East affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/12/putin-netanyahu-minds-alike-syrian-skies-151203134525140.html

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