Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to keep Russia and its army, navy and air force right out of the way of the heightened Middle East hostilities he expects to be generated by US or Israeli war action against Iran or Western-Arab-Muslim intervention in Syria.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and Moscow sources, Putin ordered Russian warships to pull out of the Syrian port of Tartus with all speed, on the strength of his intelligence chiefs’ conclusion that both events will occur during a time segment ranging from early November, straight after the Nov. 6 US presidential election, to April-May 2013.
Russian intelligence analysts draw on the following points:
1. President Barack Obama’s officials have stopped bickering with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak over whether or not Israel is capable of destroying Iran’s nuclear program and how much damage an attack would achieve.
The Russians take this to mean that both are now entrenched in their positions and that Israel has set its face towards a military operation.
Russian military and intelligence experts take issue with the American assessment of the limitations of an Israeli operation and are sure Israel’s armed forces (the IDF) do have the capacity to shut the Iranian nuclear program down for several years – not just one or two.
Moscow foresees West-Arab coalition intervention in Syria
2. Certain that Western and Arab powers as well as Turkey are on the brink of military action in Syria, the Russians predict that Hizballah and Lebanon are bound to be drawn into the Syrian vortex before long.
3. The Russians also dispute US and Israeli estimates of the length of a projected operation against Iran: American military experts give it 10 days to two weeks; Israelis predict up to a month; while analysts in Moscow foresee an operation lasting six months, with long lulls in between spurts of action.
This estimate rests on information reaching Russian intelligence that the attacks on Iran, whether by the US or Israel, will come in several successive waves.
4. They also question US and Israeli hypothetical thinking on “the day after” military operations in Iran and Syria. Russian analysts say that neither has any notion of the military or political knock-on effects of their actions on the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea region.
Putin has accordingly pulled Russian military assets out of anticipated war areas and their general environs, excepting for intelligence personnel. At its back door on the Caspian Sea, the Russian fleet and marines have been ordered to stay put in their bases.
5. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources reveal that Moscow virtually cut off its arms deliveries to Iran as from early August. From now on, only items contracted and already paid for will be delivered. The only exception is the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile batteries, which Tehran purchased to shield its nuclear sites and which Moscow has never handed over.
Iran filed a $4 billion lawsuit against Russia at the Geneva Court of Arbitration over this omission – $1 billion against the money already paid and $3 billion to punish Moscow for reneging on the S-300 contract.
Tehran is now forced to take into account that in a war contingency, Moscow will withhold replacement parts and ordnance for the Russian weapons systems in service with the Iranian armed forces and Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Few other items remain on order and so, by the end of this year, Russian arms shipments to Iran will peter out.
No more Russian arms for Syria or Iran
6. In the week it halted arms sales to Iran, the Putin government decided to stop sending weapons to Syria as well. The only inkling of this came with the announcement that “no large Russian weapons shipments were planned in the near future for Syria.
On Wednesday, August 29, debkafile's military sources reported that in the past two weeks, Moscow had begun disengaging from Syria. Just before pulling Russian warships out of Tartus port, it called off a big naval exercise dubbed “Caucasus 2012” scheduled for launching in mid-August in the eastern Mediterranean opposite the Syrian coast.
Our sources add that while halting military assistance to Syria, Moscow informed President Bashar Assad, that intelligence assistance and the services of Russian advisers on logistics would continue.
7. At the same time, our intelligence sources disclose that the Kremlin made it clear to Washington and Jerusalem that Moscow has military "red lines" in Iran and Syria, and that if the Americans or Israelis cross them, Russia will reconsider its nonintervention policy.
For example, an attack on the Russian-built and -operated nuclear reactor in Bushehr would be deemed a crossed line.