J'lem sees Russian interests behind arms sales to Damascus

Syria has started receiving Russian-made antiaircraft missile systems, part of a $900 million deal Russia signed with Damascus at the beginning of the year.

syrian troops 88 (photo credit: )
syrian troops 88
(photo credit: )
Israel continues to express its displeasure with Moscow over arms sales to Syria, but has no interest in "pushing the envelope" with the Kremlin over the issue, Israeli diplomatic officials have made clear in recent days. According to these officials, Israel - which raises the issue continuously with Russia - will take up the issue in October when Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov is scheduled to arrive on a visit. At the same time, there is little expectation in Israel that his visit will dramatically change anything regarding weapons sales. In recent days, Syria has started receiving the first shipment of Russian-made antiaircraft missile systems that could threaten IAF aircraft over the Golan. The missiles are part of a $900 million deal Russia signed with Damascus at the beginning of the year. Israel and Russia have been disagreeing about arms sales since 2004, when Israel received word that the Russians intended to sell SA-18 antiaircraft missiles to Syria. Israel's argument against the sale at the time was that the missiles could land in Hizbullah's hands, with the Russians countering that they would ensure that this would not happen. Nevertheless, the issue of Russian-made weaponry in the hands of Hizbullah was a source of tension between Jerusalem and Moscow following the Second Lebanon War, with Israel urging Russia to stop supplying arms to Syria and Iran because some of those weapons ended up in Hizbullah's arsenal during the war. Soon after the war, a high-level Israeli delegation went to Moscow to discuss the arms issue. The delegation complained that Iran and Syria passed Russian-made Fagot and Kornet antitank missiles on to Hizbullah, missiles that were responsible for killing many of the 119 IDF soldiers who died in the war. According to diplomatic assessments in Jerusalem, Russia continues to sell arms to Syria not out of enmity to Israel, but rather out of its own interests. The first interest is that Russia has a massive military/industrial complex that needs to be "fed." Whenever Israel brings up the issue of arms sales with visiting Russian diplomats, inevitably they fire back that with the US selling billions of dollars of arms to Arab states in the region - with no way to guarantee that those arms won't be used against Israel or fall into the wrong hands - no one can expect Russia not to sell to willing buyers. The Russians always also stand on a legalistic ground, saying the weapons systems are only defensive in nature, and that Moscow never sells anything that is banned by international law. The second key interest Moscow has in these sales, according to the assessments, is to once again gain status as a world power on par with the US. To do that, Moscow feels it needs to be an actor in the Middle East, something its arms sales to Syria and Iran facilitate. According to this school of thought, the Middle East is a key arena for the Russians. By selling arms here, Russia throws its weight around. It not only bucks the image of the junior Quartet partner that just follows Washington's lead, but sets it ups as a counterbalance to the US. The arms sales give Russia importance and significance in the region - all of a sudden giving Moscow much more clout here.