Updated Feb 23, 2018

Moscow exploiting Israeli-Syrian clashes for regional influence

An Israeli missile that landed in a southern Lebanese town near the Syrian border on Feb. 10, 2018. Photo: Ali Dia / AFP / Getty Images

Israel’s strike on Syrian targets earlier this month, in response to an Iranian drone that launched from Syria and entered Israeli airspace, marked the most serious clash to date between Israel and Iran and its local proxies. It was also the latest example of Russia's interjection into the conflict. Indeed, discussion of further military action by Israel only ended after a call between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Why it matters: As hostilities intensify in Syria, Russia is poised to expand its role in the region, portraying itself as a neutral broker to further the Kremlin’s   own interests.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry urged “restraint on all sides,” stressing “unconditional respect” for the sovereignty of “Syria and other countries in the region.” It also called “absolutely unacceptable” any danger to Russian military personnel serving in Syria “upon the legitimate Syrian government’s invitation.” Notably, the statement did not acknowledge Israel’s legitimate reasons for resorting to strikes.

Moscow may be well-positioned to restrict, when necessary, the freedom of action of both sides. At the same time, it is doubtful that the Kremlin sees much interest in restraining Iran, Russia's main regional ally. Moscow has long favored the Shia axis in the region and supported Hezbollah. Theirs is a partnership of dictatorships that put differences aside when faced with a common interest — in this case, opposition to the West.

What’s next: Putin will aim to restore Russia's status as a power-broker in the region, to the detriment of the U.S. and its allies.

Anna Borshchevskaya is the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Go deeper

Sign of the times: A pro-Warren super PAC

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally in Nevada. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of women progressives who back Sen. Elizabeth Warren has formed Persist PAC, a super PAC airing pro-Warren ads starting Wednesday in an effort to boost her performance ahead of Saturday's crucial Nevada caucuses, a spokesman told Axios.

Why it matters: Warren has spoken adamantly against the influence of unlimited spending and dark money in politics. But these supporters have concluded that before Warren can reform the system, she must win under the rules that exist — and that whether she likes it or not, their uncoordinated help may be needed to keep her viable through this weekend's contest and into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Pentagon policy chief resigns amid reported discord with Trump

John Rood. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

John Rood, the Pentagon's top policy official, will resign from his post on Feb. 28, CNN first reported and President Trump confirmed.

The state of play: CNN said Rood "was perceived as not embracing some of the changes in policy the White House and senior Pentagon officials wanted," such as peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban and a decision to cut back on military exercises with South Korea as the president courted North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Coronavirus cases rise, as warnings of global pandemic grow

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We may be "at the brink" of a global pandemic, warns a top U.S. public health official, as cases continue to spread despite containment efforts. Meanwhile, the global economy is being affected, including the tech manufacturing industry.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,000 people and infected over 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 136 new deaths since Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health