(Jericho, West Bank) — Make no mistake: the Kremlin is not waiting for the Trump-Pence administration to staff up and figure out its policies in the epicenter.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev are moving aggressively to meet with Middle Eastern leaders, court them, woo them, sell them weapons, sell them nuclear technology, and whisper in their ears that Moscow — not Washington — is the friend and ally they can trust over the long haul.
Last week, just days after the stunning American elections, I arrived in Jericho to host a conference of Palestinian pastors and ministry leaders and their wives. As it happened, when my wife and I arrived at the hotel where the conference was to be held, we found it surrounded by heavily armed soldiers. There were new checkpoints on all the nearby roads. There were snipers on the roof. There were armed bodyguards everywhere, and the lobby was filled with dozens of advisors and protocol officers, standing around smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.
Why? Because Medvedev was on his way to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (aka, Abu Mazen).
Over the course of several days, the two leaders discussed the future of Moscow’s relationship with the Palestinians, and specifically the Kremlin’s offer to host peace talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Abbas also used the occasion to name a street in Jericho after Medvedev to thank him for all the money the Kremlin has poured into the Palestinian Authority in recent years.
Medvedev’s first stop on this Mideast tour was in Israel where he met privately with Mr. Netanyahu. Officially, they marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between Israel and the Russian Federation. But they also discussed Netanyahu’s concerns about Russian military involvement in Syria, and the growing Iranian threat to the region, even as Moscow keeps selling Tehran nuclear technology and advanced military equipment.
The Russian premier also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (who himself recently visited Moscow). Medvedev also toured Yad Vashem, and visited the Western Wall.
This was Medvedev’s first state visit to Israel and the P.A. He was last here as a private citizen in 1990.
So why did Medvedev decide to come to the epicenter now — for the first time in two and a half decades — and just hours after the American presidential elections?
The answer is obvious: the Russians want to be the dominant global power in the Middle East. Putin and Medvedev see an enormous vacuum in the Middle East created by President Obama’s steady and foolish retreat, and they are making all kinds of moves to fill that vacuum with Russian money, arms and technology before the next President decides exactly what U.S. foreign policy in the region will be.
Consider just a few examples of Russian efforts in the region:
- Earlier this year, Russia agreed to loan Egypt $25 billion to build a nuclear reactor.
- Last year, Russia signed a $10 billion deal to build a nuclear reactor for Jordan.
- In August, Russian delivered its advanced S-300 air defense missile system to Iran.
- This month, Russia announced it may sell an additional $10 billion in arms — notably tanks and fighter jets — to Iran.
- In February, Iran announced it wanted to buy at least $8 billion in Russian arms.
- In January, Russia agreed to sell 46 attack helicopters to Egypt.
- In 2014, Russia signed $3.5 billion deal to sell arms to Egypt.
- Last week, Turkey indicated it wants to buy the state-of-the-art S-400 air defense missile system from Russia.
President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence have their work cut out for them.
- Russia is going to be the big global story in the coming years — Putin is a Czar in the making, he’s an imperialist, he’s dangerous.
- It’s not yet clear Trump sees the Russian threat clearly — so it’s going to be interesting to see who Trump brings onto his national security team.
- Pence sees the Russian challenge clearly. I’ve discussed it with him, and I’m confident he will offer the new President wise counsel.
- I’m also encouraged that Trump has asked Rep. Mike Pompeo to be the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Pompeo also gets it. He’s a West Point graduate, served honorably in the U.S. armed forces, sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and will bring a wealth of experience to the CIA. I had the opportunity to meet privately with Pompeo in his Capitol Hill office for an hour or so earlier this summer and was very impressed. He’s a smart pick, and an encouraging one.
- Regarding General Mike Flynn, the incoming National Security Advisor, I don’t know him personally, but am studying him carefully.
- We’ll see who Trump picks to run State and Defense — I’m praying they are leaders who truly see the Russian threat and are prepared to give the new President wise and thoughtful counsel.
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