Imagine we are a fly on the wall in an opulent office in the Kremlin, the site of today’s important meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Except that our “fly” is a mini drone replete with a high-resolution remote camera and a hyper-sensitive microphone. Every word is being broadcast back to us.
Netanyahu: I sound like a broken record already, but the situation in the Middle East is worsening and only you, my friend Vladimir, can rewrite this chapter of Middle East history.
You have boots on the ground and you have planes in the air and ships at sea.
Our major issue is this — Israel cannot, under any circumstances, allow Iran to become a permanent presence in Syria. Not a presence on the ground or in the air. They’re too dangerous and untrustworthy. We can’t have the Iranians at our border, opening a front against us on the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu swats at the fly.
Putin: I understand, Bibi. But I needed to hear it from you. Iran and Israel are arch enemies, this is not a secret – and I know something about secrets. Iran is unquestionably propping up Assad. Rouhani wants to develop Syria as his puppet state even more than he wants to control Hezbollah.
Netanyahu: He’s doing a good job.
Putin: Back to the point. Russia will stay in the region to maintain stability. The peace talks in Geneva failed, so it is up us to make certain tensions do not spiral out of control. It took them a year to determine what you and I knew from day one. Prepare for a rough road, but I will make sure that we keep order. On that, you have my word.
A phone rings.
Putin: Da. Michael Flynn, how are the hell are you? Why I haven’t seen you since … Look, Michael, I’m in a meeting, send over your updated CV and someone will get back to you.
Netanyahu: And ISIS? Congrats on your direct approach and targeted attacks against these terrorists. They fear you — and no one else. That is why they are planning attacks in Russia. ISIS is a thorn in all of our sides but the US has been afraid to confront ISIS directly. Your attacks will weaken and I hope degrade and even, God willing, destroy ISIS.
Putin: They are terrorists, ideologues and fanatics. It is essential to destroy ISIS. We need say no more about them. They are destabilizing the entire region. But ISIS is the excuse for our presence in the region so, remember, they serve a purpose.
An aide enters the room carrying an ornate silver tray with Imperial Collection Super Premium Vodka and two gold-rimmed shot glasses. The aide places the tray on the table between the men and leaves the room. He sees the fly and looks puzzled. There are never such bugs in the President’s room.
Putin (leans towards Netanyahu): I’ve learned a new Hebrew word. Tell me if I’m pronouncing it properly “taklis” - is that it?
Netanyahu: Ahhh, so you want to talk tachlis — “brass tacks” as the Americans say. Clear your throat and it will come out more authentically.
Putin: We’ve spoken and met and I read the CIA and Mi6 and our own exhaustive intelligence reports, but you and the American seem to have a special bond.
Netanyahu: I’ve read the same reports. Believe what you read, but don’t rely on it. You and I are politicians. Trump isn’t. Not yet, and I don’t think he will ever be. He’s a businessman. But what every analyst overlooks is that he speaks from his gut and thinks with his heart. That’s who he is.
Putin: I need to know more. How does he make decisions? How does one speak to him? Every leader in the world is confused and, I must admit, a bit worried. We do not know how to respond or how to approach the United States now that Trump is in charge. I guess we can both say, “Careful what you wish for.”
Netanyahu: True. Trump is an enigma. He is on the one hand simple and straightforward and on the other unpredictable. He sees cost benefits like in business. He speaks and tweets quickly. He can’t let attacks go unanswered. He is a brawler.
The most important advice I can give you when dealing with Trump is be direct and respectful. Follow through immediately. Trump is already skeptical, he hasn’t made up his mind about you yet and it will now cost him political capital to relax sanctions after your election high jinks, but he is keeping an open mind toward Russia and toward you. He knows that Russia is a player. His first choice will be that you work together and not be adversaries.
But if you become confrontational so will he. And who knows where that will lead? And, frankly, I don’t ever want to find out.
They clink shot glasses.
Netanyahu: I’ll make you a promise. I can be your cultural translator for Trump. I will help you read his cues and understand his messages. But you must keep all communication between Russia and Syria open to me. And I need to say it again, you must make certain that Iran does not establish a military presence through proxies in Syria.
Putin: The cameras are waiting. Let’s go to the press conference.
Netanyahu: Should we take the fly with us? I’ve seen this kind of insect before.
Putin: Nyet, I want to study it. It seems our conversation has already been transmitted live. Let my people see if this mini-drone is more or less sophisticated than ours.