Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's first visit to Israel in mid-January, part of a Middle East tour,
is intended to signify a major switch in Kremlin Middle East policy to warmer relations with Israel and correspondingly less intense ties with Iran, Syria and the radical Palestinian Hamas. This will be the second visit by a Russian president to Jerusalem. Vladimir Putin's was the first when he was president in 2005.
debkafile's Moscow sources report that the Kremlin has watched the Obama administration Israel-Palestinian peace diplomacy run out of steam and sees its chance for a more active role on this diplomatic track.
Furthermore, the Russians have got two bids in play for a slice of the as-yet untapped Mediterranean gas. While offering to partner Lebanon in exploring the oil and gas potential opposite its shores earlier this month, debkafile's sources report that the Russian energy giant Gazprom sent secret envoys to Tel Aviv at the same time. They came to discuss investment opportunities with the Israeli firms holding the concessions for the Tamar, Dalit and Leviathan Mediterranean gas fields off the Israeli shore and a possible partnership in Israel's Ashkelon-Eilat oil and gas pipelines.
According to our sources, Russian energy experts calculate that Israel's offshore gas reserves, currently estimated at about 25 trillion cubic feet, are in fact much bigger and maintain they could be better explored with Russian professional assistance. Leviathan is seen as the most promising of the three strikes.
debkafile revealed Monday, Dec. 13, that Mikhail Margelovis, head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Federation Council and chairman of Global Zero, would be arriving to prepare the ground for Medvedev's visit both in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Our intelligence sources report that ahead of these visits, Moscow sent five messages to Jerusalem:
1. For the purchase of military UAVs for the Russian army – for which an agreement will be signed – Moscow will guarantee to withhold advanced weapons, such as the sophisticated S-300 interceptor missile systems, from Iran and Syria. By this move, the Medvedev-Putin administration is drawing a line limiting Russia's vital contribution to their military buildup and upgrade.
2. Moscow shares Israel's view that any hi-tech Russian military hardware sold to Damascus or Tehran would eventually reach Hizballah. The Russians have no wish to upgrade Hizballah's arsenal and therefore has a further incentive for keeping this weaponry out of Iranian and Syrian hands.
3. The Kremlin has recently shifted ground on the Palestinian issue and is no longer willing to automatically endorse Palestinian demands of Israel. Unlike Palestinian negotiators headed by Mahmoud Abbas, Moscow is prepared to look at interim solutions for the Palestinian-Israel dispute. The Russians say the Palestinians are aware of the new winds blowing in Moscow. That is why they did not lobby Russia to support their unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood within pre-1967 War borders, and turned to more amenable governments in Europe, the Far East and South America.
4. The Russians ask Israel to take note of another change in its favor: Hamas's Damascus-based leader Khaled Meshaal is no longer welcome in Moscow.
5. Moscow is seeking to exploit the deepening strategic ties between Israel and Greece to jump aboard their plans to build an underwater gas pipeline linking Greece to the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashkelon. This would link up with the existing Ashkelon oil and gas pipeline to Eilat, Israel's Red Sea port.
Russian energy strategists are eyeing the planned and existing segments of this route with great interest, having calculated that the quickest and cheapest outlet for marketing Russian gas to the Far East is through Eilat.
Israeli leaders, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have high hopes of the Medvedev visit.