Through Arms to Syria, Putin Challenges US Middle East Game Rules
Disturbing reports were coming out of the Russian capital Wednesday, January 12, about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s plan to accede to Syria’s request for advanced weaponry during president Bashar Assad’s visit to Moscow on January 24. debkafile‘s US and Israeli security sources quickly contradicted reports that 18 Iskander-M or SS-X-26 surface-to-surface missiles were on the table. The items for sale, they revealed, are advanced SA-10 air defense systems of the type that protects Moscow and shoulder-held SA-18 anti-air missiles, whose transfer to the Hizballah and/or Iraqi guerrillas would move at least two sets of goal posts in the Middle East balance of strength.
The SA-10 is an effective defense against Israeli warplanes and missiles, including cruise missiles. Its presence in Syria would therefore knock a serious hole in Israel’s deterrent ability against Assad and the Hizballah.
The Kremlin’s willingness to sell these items to Israel’s northern neighbor and backer of Iraqi insurgents is a rocket from the Putin to the White House in Washington, a declaration that he has had enough of sitting on the sidelines and watching US move the January 30 election pieces around the Iraq board and tilt the Palestinian ballot in favor of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Yasser Arafat’s successor.
The Russian president’s exasperation boiled over when he saw Washington’s hand in the Ukraine presidential election stirring up the anti-Moscow Orange Revolution that brought opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to office, and, again, in the sale of the Russian oil concern Yukos. The Russian leader felt he had been made the target of a well- orchestrated campaign for undermining him personally and politically.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is also put on notice that Washington’s backing alone does not lend him the status of unilateral player for disengagement in the Palestinian arena.
The Russian leader has another large bone to pick with Sharon. He has complained often on the basis of intelligence received that Israel provides a backstairs rendezvous venue for Jewish Russian oligarchs conspiring against him, among them Berizovsky who lives in London, and Khodorovsky, founder of the oil giant YUKOS who sits in a Moscow jail.
Each of those moneyed plotters, he charges, maintains a representative in Israel to look after the transfer of his wealth to Israeli banks. More than once, the Russian president asked Sharon to put a stop to this activity. When the Israeli prime minister informed him that the Law of Return forbids prosecution or extradition unless laws are broken, Putin was disbelieving. He later sneered to his aides that he had not known that the Law of Return applied to members of the Russian Christian Orthodox Church, a veiled reference to the Russian oligarchs’ hired personnel who relocated with them to Israel.
The Kremlin’s decision to supply advanced SA-10 and SA-18 missiles to Syria constitutes a direct threat to Israel. But it is also a shot across Washington’s bows.
debkafile‘s Russian and Israeli military experts described the SA-10 (“Grumble”) as an advanced surface-to-air missiles system capable of seriously limiting Israel’s aerial activity over Syria and Lebanon. It can engage more than one target and counter low and high-flying aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. “Grumble” can outperform the US Patriot anti-missile missile system supplied to Israel and counter the aircraft and most of the missiles in the Israel Air Force’s arsenal, to the detriment of its deterrent capabilities
The SA-18 “Grouse” is a highly effective shoulder-held missile. If it reaches Iraqi guerrillas it will constitute a direct threat to US troops. In Hizballah hands, it would add to US troubles in Lebanon.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, Putin and his top strategists can sit back and see how Washington and Jerusalem react.