Saturday, August 23, 2008

Israel Paying the Price for U.S.-Russia Rivalry

Ron Ben-Yishai (Ynet News)

* The Russians are trying to signal to the West: You're undermining our interests through our rivals in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus? We'll get back at you, and not only in the Caucasus, but also in your soft underbelly - by boosting your rivals in the Middle East. Syria was selected as the first to be wooed because recently it appeared that it has been trying to move closer to the West and restore its ties with the U.S. And here is the rest of it.

* However, Israel may end up paying the direct and heaviest price as a result of these warmer ties. The Syrian procurement list is topped by an advanced anti-aircraft system that provides aerial defense and can intercept missiles. In addition, Syria has been trying to purchase medium-range ground-to-ground missiles that are more accurate than anything it possesses today. Such missiles would enable Damascus to accurately target military installations in northern and central Israel. Syria is also seeking to purchase other anti-aircraft systems as well as optical warning systems; the combination of all of the above could significantly erode Israel's ability to protect itself against the thousands of ballistic missiles and rockets accumulated by Syria and used to threaten the Israeli home front.
* The deployment of Russian experts in Syria, in addition to the hundreds who are there already, would also greatly undermine Israel's ability to "punish" Syria should it attack us, while upgrading the Syrian military's intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities.
* By threatening to upgrade Syria's military capabilities vis-a-vis Israel, Russia is trying to threaten the U.S. Israel has become the target through which the Russians are trying to hurt America.
* By threatening to upgrade military ties with Syria, Moscow is hinting that should the West not step back and rescind the countermeasures adopted in relation to the Georgia war, the next in line for wooing would be Iran. Russia is already selling advanced arms to Iran while preventing harsher sanctions on Tehran in relation to its nuclear plan. Should Russia decide to act unrestrainedly, the damage to the West and Israel could be much graver.
* For the time being it appears that Russia is merely threatening, in a bid to deter the West. Officials in Moscow don't want to embark on a genuine cold war. This is why President Medvedev spoke with Prime Minister Olmert and attempted to allay his fears.

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