US to Oversee Military-Intelligence Choreography
The two largest military, intelligence and high-tech players in the Middle East for more than sixty years – aside from the US – finalized a five-year military cooperation pact In Moscow on September 6.
It was signed by the two defense ministers Anatoly Serdyukov and Ehud Barak.
The Russians said the accord "boosts military ties… to help fight common threats, such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
Moscow foresaw five years of military cooperation covering "exchange of experience and information in spheres of mutual interests" relating to issues of international security, development of military education, medicine, physical training. Serdyukov said, "Our views on many modern challenges are close or coincide. First of all, it has to do with terrorism and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
Some Russian and Western analysts wanted to believe that these comments meant Moscow was as worried as Jerusalem by the possible spreading of the cooperation among Iran, Syria and North Korea from the production of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to their distribution – "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" – as the Russians put it.
But in replying to his host, the Israeli minister chose to disregard Russian comments on the weapons of mass destruction issue and focused on terrorism. After all, the pact was signed just 16 days after Moscow activated Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
Barak therefore commented that Israel is "closely following" the situation in Russia's North Caucasus, because Russia and Israel live under the shared threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
Israel sinks drone technology into the new partnership
Right after the signing ceremony Barak boarded his special plane and flew from Moscow to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss a range of security and diplomatic issues.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem point out that if Washington had been against the Russian-Israeli accord, Jerusalem would have been held back from signing it. However, Washington is intent on getting Moscow involved in the steps against Iran's nuclear program hoping the Kremlin will eventually agree to withdraw its objections to confronting Iran militarily.
Israel was persuaded to play its part in this strategy by withholding its protest from the Bushehr start-up.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 459 of Aug. 27: Obama's Iran Strategy Allowed for Bushehr. Can Secret US-Russian Deal Extend to Containing Iran's Nuclear Aspirations?").
The follow-up was an American green light for Israel to begin gradually transferring to the Russians the technologies related to manufacturing unmanned aerial vehicles, drones. Moscow has so far failed to catch up with American and Israeli drone technology.
In April, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin admitted that after about 5 billion rubles (US $170 million) was invested in developing indigenous drones, the product failed its tests.
A key section of the newly-signed agreement is, therefore, a US $100 million deal for Israel to provide Russia with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), badly needed by its security forces to tighten surveillance over Russia's North Caucasus.
In the last month, the situation there has deteriorated sharply – largely owing to the influx of Taliban and Al Qaeda infiltrators from Afghanistan to the Northern Caucasus, who are targeting Russian security forces and undercover personnel operating in the region for attacks.
Washington and Moscow alike have kept this development under wraps, but DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources disclose that Putin and Barak discussed this problem at length when they met in Sochi, with the Israeli defense minister offering suggestions as to how counterterrorism experts could contribute to the Russian effort to put down this new wave of terrorism.
Americans cagey about letting Russia have top-of-the-line drone technology
Barak elaborated to Putin on the special mechanisms developed by Israeli intelligence and counterterrorism organizations to help the American army fight Al Qaida and Sunni terrorism, especially in Iraq, and explained how they could be adapted for the Russian army.
So the Western media reports that the new Russian-Israeli security pact was solely concerned with the supply of UAVs were far short of its broad content which, inter alia, also covered the latest technology and techniques for combating terrorism.
Even before the pact was signed, fifty Russian technicians were undergoing training in Israel in drone operation. Israel has agreed in principle to establish a $300 million joint UAV production facility in Russia. They are still discussing which model will be produced and which electronic surveillance devices and weapons-launching systems will be installed.
The Russians are keen on gaining manufacturing rights for the two Israeli Heron models, the medium-altitude, long-endurance MALE and the TP high-altitude long-endurance HALE, both of which resemble the American Predator used against terrorist strongholds in the Pakistani borderlands. But so far, the Obama administration has not consented to Israel releasing the Heron technology to Moscow.
One reason for the Russian-Israeli pact's spread over five years was to give Washington time to see which way Moscow was heading. Its willingness to share these advanced technologies with the Russian military will depend on the direction taken by Moscow's policies. It is assumed that those technologies will be a lot more advanced in two or three years' time.
Will former hostile spies open doors to one another?
On top of considerations regarding policy, the intelligence aspect of the cooperation pact may be critical in the short and the long term, as America, Russia and Israeli are fully aware.
Israeli military and intelligence personnel will be present in the sensitive, terror-ridden regions of Russia and inside its most advanced weapons manufacturing industries – on the one hand, while Russian military engineers and technicians will be learning and training at Israeli air bases and military industrial plants, on the other.
This post-Cold War collaboration provides much food for thought.
Even if Israel refuses to part with the advanced technologies sought by Moscow, Russian personnel will be admitted to Israel's top-security facilities and given the chance to acquire first-hand knowledge about the Israeli Defense Forces and its methods of operation.
On the other side of the coin, Israeli officers working with Russian special units in the field and the Russian Air Force will see from the ground up – and not just from satellite imagery – the inside workings of Russia's military and intelligence machinery.
Moscow has never allowed this sort of access to any Western power – only to Muslim governments with whom it forged military pacts.
Whether the military cooperation between Russia and Israel goes that far and deep depends first and foremost on how Washington decides.