Analysis: Israeli arms sales won't push Russia into enemy hands

Sharon's former spokesman believes Russia-Syria love affair direct result of Moscow's desire to reassert itself as a superpower.

raanan gissin 88 (photo credit: )
raanan gissin 88
(photo credit: )
Russia is courting Syria in a way not seen since the days of the Cold War. Syria's President Bashar Assad is in Moscow for a two-day visit at the invitation of Dmitry Medvedev, his Russian counterpart. Some observers believe Damascus could go on an arms shopping spree during the visit. Meanwhile, Russia has dispatched its only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to the Syrian port of Tartus. Could all of this be a reaction to training and arms provided to the Georgian military by Israel? Absolutely not, according to Ra'anan Gissin, a strategic analyst and Ariel Sharon's former spokesman. Gissin believes the Russia-Syria love affair is a direct result of Moscow's desire to reassert itself as a superpower. "This isn't against us, it's part of a new global game," Gissin said. "The aircraft carrier to Syria is supposed to show that Russia has allies, and that it wants access to the Mediterranean. Israel, as a Western state, is merely one player in this global realignment. Russia is signalling in the strongest possible way that it is willing to activate its old Soviet military alliances." In fact, sending an aircraft carrier to Syria has more to do with Russia's paranoid fear of a NATO stranglehold on Moscow than Israel's help to Georgia, Gissin said. The message to the West is simple; move in on our turf and incorporate Russia's satellite states into NATO, and Moscow will move in on an area sensitive to the West. Gissin pointed out that Russia had supplied Syria with weapons before becoming upset at Israel's military aid to Georgia. If the arms sales to Damascus were driven by economic motivation before, now they are driven by strategic considerations, too. "Today, Russia's interest is to show the US and the West that it is a superpower again. It's back in the Mediterranean. It's telling the West: You need us in this region, and you need us to deal with Iran. This is happening because it senses that the West is weak," Gissin said. While global rather than local forces are at play behind the new Russian-Syrian axis, the effects on the region are clear. "As far as Assad is concerned, his new-found Russian friends could provide a deterrent against a future attack on Syria," he said. Still, some things have changed since the Cold War. Moscow is not about to cut ties with Israel, and new factors like international terrorism and a globalized economy will keep Russia restrained. Further east, as Pakistan faces instability, some may ask whether Israel's large-scale arms sales and defense cooperation with Islamabad's arch-rival India could push Pakistan into an alliance with Iran. But a senior security source said Jerusalem need not concern itself with such worries. "Pakistan has done problematic things without any connection to arms sales to India, such as the proliferation of nuclear know-how to Iran, which has been going on for many years," the source said. "We know that the Pakistani government was not completely in the dark over [Pakistani nuclear scientist] Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear smuggling network. In this sense, Pakistan has been maneuvering in a way that has harmed this area, irrespective of the Indian connection," the source added. The source recalled then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom's meeting with Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, Pakistan's foreign minister, in 2005, adding that it was an example of Israel's ability to hold diplomatic relations with Pakistan despite the assistance to India. Such contacts exist despite the fact that "Pakistan is a problematic state and has spent the past decade moving closer to Iran," the source said. "Arms sales to India will not worsen or better Pakistan's disturbing conduct."