A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending January 28, 2005:

Syrian Missile Sale Slots into Secret Russian Air Defense System for Iran


24 January: Russian president Vladimir Putin and Syrian president Bashar Assad, who arrived in Moscow Monday, January 24, will sign a $70 million deal for the sale of 20 SA-18 Igla-S 9K38 batteries mounted on Armored Personnel Carriers. The sale culminates intense quiet exchanges conducted by the US Pentagon and State Department with the Kremlin and Russian defense ministry to prevent the sale to Damascus of the shoulder-launched version of the SA-18 for fear it falling into the hands of Iraqi guerrillas and Hizballah terrorists.

Washington accepted the APC-mounted compromise despite Israel’s complaints. Although 20 batteries do not present a major headache for the Israeli air force, their mobility makes them difficult to target and limits the maneuverability of Israeli planes in Syrian airspace as a deterrent to Damascus war or terror initiatives. The Igla-S is also effective against small targets like reconnaissance drones, helicopters and cruise missiles. Missile experts report that when fired against fighter craft an Igla-S has the effectiveness of two missiles fired in a single round – or five missiles when launched against a cruise missile.

debkafile‘s military sources now reveal that the Syrian missile sale is integral to the Kremlin’s new, broad strategic initiative that encompasses secret military assistance to Tehran as well as its overt deals with Damascus.

What really worries Washington and Jerusalem is the possibility of Assad and Putin putting their heads together on the same 36D6 radar system Moscow has supplied Iran.

If Syria gets this sophisticated system, a Russian-coordinated Iranian-Syrian-Lebanese radar barrier will rise with three serious consequences that go beyond the balance of strength in the Middle East:

1. The 36D6 radar system deployment, if acquired by Syria as well Iran, will confine US aerial operations in Iraq to a narrow corridor hemmed in by sophisticated Russian radar and reconnaissance systems.

2. Its deployment at nuclear sites in northern Iran near the Afghan border will obstruct any American air operation mounted from the north against Iran from Afghan bases, while the Russian radar system’s presence in Syria will hinder an American or Israeli strike against Iran from the west.

3. Moscow’s military backing for Iran and Syria is tantamount to sympathy for their diplomatic postures and extends to their sponsorship of Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist organizations. First overt indications of Moscow’s new direction surfaced in an official Russian foreign ministry denunciation last week, the first since the 1990s, of the American threat of new sanctions against Syria for sponsoring “freedom fighters” – Syria’s term for Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Jihad Islami.

How far the Kremlin intends to take its new policy thrust in the Middle East will become clearer after the Assad-Putin talks in Moscow this week and the Putin-Bush Bratislava summit in a month.


Sharon Gambles on Abbas by Capitulating to Hamas’ Terms


26 January: Under the bewitching spell of a week-long temporary and partial lull in Palestinian terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, the Sharon-Peres government is capitulating to radical conditions for its continuation laid down by the extremist Hamas. Indeed, Israel is in effect negotiating with the Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction. Handling the process through the newly-elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) provides a patina of respectability.

Notwithstanding his failure to procure a ceasefire from any terrorist group, Israel agreed Tuesday night, January 25, to suspend targeted assassinations of wanted terrorists and lifted the freeze on diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians.

The conditions the Sharon government has already met are just the beginning. Hamas aka Abbas has more demands.

1. Acceptance of Its full incorporation as a power-sharing partner in the new Palestinian leadership. The Hamas has thus acquired legitimacy as a political entity which will also run for election to the Palestinian legislature in July.

2. Going into politics will not deprive Hamas or its fraternal terrorist group Jihad Islami of any resources for the continued practice of terrorism, including its armed bands and their arsenals. They will also enjoy immunity from Palestinian Authority law enforcement and interference and complete independence of action. Both will therefore be free to resume terrorist attacks at will.

3. Egypt will provide guarantees for Israel’s commitment to refrain from attacking Hamas’ installations and members. Amos Gilead, senior aide of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, flies to Cairo Wednesday with backup for the Egyptian guarantee.

4. The Israeli army will pull back to the pre-September 28, 2000 lines held before Yasser Arafat declared his terror war. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz bowed to this demand in Paris Tuesday when he informed his French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie of his government’s willingness to hand all parts of the Gaza Strip and all West Bank cities to the Palestinians by the end of 2005.

By surrendering to Abbas’ (Hamas) terms, Ariel Sharon, deputy prime minister Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz are leapfrogging over their disengagement plan and even bypassing the first clauses of the Middle East Quartet's road map, which demand the actual dismantling of terrorist infrastructure, not a mere truce. The focus of talks with the Palestinians – and contacts with the Americans and Europeans – has thus gravitated towards discussing the scale and tempo of Israel’s concession of territory rather than the dismantling of terrorist groups.

It is a bold Israeli gesture, one the United States would not think of making toward Sunni insurgents in Iraq or Hizballah terrorists in Lebanon. Indeed, Sharon, egged on by his new Labor partners, may be running ahead of himself. President George W. Bush is not yet ready to receive Abbas at the White House. Yet Sharon, Peres and Mofaz are making an end run around a second-term administration that has yet to formulate its policies for the next four years and presenting it with a package of far-reaching gifts for the Palestinians already wrapped up and delivered.

Sharon’s strategists believe that if this process fails and Palestinian terrorism resumes at full spate, no one – even in Europe – will be able to blame Israel for not going the extra mile for the sake of a peace accommodation.

It is important to note that in stark contrast to the blind hopes Israeli leaders are pinning on Abu Mazen for ending the four-year war, Palestinian expectations of his durability are extremely low. Since his election, not a single prominent Palestinian has agreed to speak on Israeli media on Abbas’ behalf, even the regulars who are usually ready to appear at the drop of a hat.

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