Why are the Russians in Syria? The Russians have always desired warm-water ports for their navy. Syria is a big arms customer. And the Russians like to stir the pot in the Middle East to give the USA busywork and divert it from fomenting “color” revolutions in places like the Ukraine.
But now there is another reason.
After being a dry hole, in a regain awash with oil & gas, for all of its history, Israel is poised to turn the tables with its recently-discovered, massive Leviathan gas field, which might also contain quite a lot of oil.
How does that impact Russia? Well, the Russians have a lot of influence over Western Europe because the Europeans are dependent upon Russian natural gas for energy. And what if the Israelis decide to build a pipeline to Greece or Italy and export some of their gas?
Answer: Vladimir Putin loses clout.
And Putin’s clout has been considerable. He has successfully wielded power in Europe to undermine support for American wars and the expansion of NATO – not to mention being able to get away with his invasion of Georgia.
Now there are prospects for that power being transferred from Russia to Israel.
So, Putin has incentive to throw a monkey wrench into the works. And how hard could that be? After all, a lot of capital will be required to build out Leviathan’s infrastructure, and with chaos in nearby Syria, such investments might not be too difficult to delay.
On top of all that, part of Leviathan might be in Lebanese waters, and Syrian troops were in Lebanon as recently as 2006. In fact, Syria considers Lebanon to be a lost province; part of “Greater Syria”. What if Assad survives with Russian help? And then re-invades Lebanon (perhaps to pursue fleeing rebels), and claims a chunk of Leviathan for himself?
Oddly enough, the USA also has incentive to thwart Leviathan exports to Europe. We don’t actually need Middle Eastern oil & gas, especially now with the fracking revolution. But military control of the Persian Gulf gives us influence over both Europe and China (not to mention a nuclear-free Japan). And Big Oil has historically slow-walked exploration in Israel to curry favor with the Arabs. So, there are quite a lot of forces arrayed against Leviathan.
And so, the Cold War is back on in Syria. Can Putin stop the USA for “doing a Libya” on Syria? Perhaps a deal can be made. Maybe Putin can let the USA topple Assad in exchange for an agreement that Israel not invade his European gas turf. With Japan shutting down its nukes, a long-term export deal between Israel and Japan fits in nice here, no?
Crisis solved. Take that United Nations!