New arms deal expected in Medvedev’s Damascus visit
Although the Kremlin stated that no weapons deals will be signed during Russian president Dmitry Medvedev's first state visit to Damascus, Monday, May 10, but they may be discussed and even approved, a prospect which has the US and Israel deeply concerned, debkafile's Washington and military sources report. These items may well include sophisticated weapons systems which Moscow has withheld from Iran.
Both Washington and Jerusalem were unpleasantly surprised by Moscow's willingness to provide Bashar Assad with this public shot in the arm just a week after the Obama administration renewed US sanctions against Syria, citing its support for terrorist groups and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction as an "extraordinary threat" to American national security. Syria is widely shunned in the Middle East itself. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak brusquely refused to receive Assad for a get-well visit to Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Syrian ruler will not doubt take the Russian gesture as support for his supply of long-range missiles to Hizballah and its substantial enhancement of the of the extremist Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah-Hamas alignment in the Middle East at the expense of the pro-Western moderate bloc led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
On April 30, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 443 carried a report on the negative import of the Medvedev visit, but Israeli government leaders were too busy dealing with the reopening of indirect talks with the Palestinians to gear up in time to forestall the damage to Israel's interests predicted from expected Russian-Syrian deals.
Observers in Washington see the deepening of Moscow-Damascus relations as a failed mark for the Obama-Clinton drive to woo Assad. Some are saying that the Kremlin, for its part, seeks to use Syria as a fig leaf for its deepening crisis with Tehran, following the Russian president's promise to Barack Obama to back tough sanctions against Iran. This promise was accompanied by Moscow's secret assurance to hold back from activating Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr – in breach of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's pledge earlier this month to have the reactor up and running by August.
The Russian president needs to demonstrate that the Kremlin is not in Washington's pocket on Iran – and certainly not aligned with Israel – hence his show of friendship toward Damascus and a possible major arms transaction with Syria that will give Iran a back door for acquiring the sophisticated weapons Moscow has denied to date.
In view of this concern, Israeli president Shimon Peres was dispatched to Moscow to attend Sunday's events Sunday marking the 65th anniversary of the allied victory against the Nazis. He tried to discourage the Russian president from going to these lengths, but failed to obtain a clear response to his appeal from Medvedev.