Archive for October 8, 2018

Russia imports Iranian teams for S-300s in Syria. Shocked alarm in US, Israel

October 8, 2018

Source: Russia imports Iranian teams for S-300s in Syria. Shocked alarm in US, Israel – DEBKAfile

DEBKA Exclusive:  The US and Israel were alarmed to learn that Moscow had decided to man the S-300 anti-air missiles sent to Syria with Iranian teams, DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources report. US and Israeli intelligence agencies which brought the news to Washington and Jerusalem also reported that the Russians had begun flying the Iranian operatives over to Syria.

Moscow announced the supply of S-300 air defense missiles to Syria in the wake of its row with Israel over the Russian Il-20 spy plane crash on Sept. 17. But, on the quiet, Moscow also decided that they would be operated by Iranian teams. And so Syria received the exact same air defense system that Russia sold to Iran two years ago – the S-300PMU-2 – which was installed for protecting its nuclear sites. American and Israeli military experts were caught by surprise by this discovery, sure the Russians were giving Syria outdated batteries..

One of Moscow’s considerations was that Iranian crews operating the Syrian-based S-300s  will be in harm’s instead of Russian teams in the event of US or Israeli aircraft making direct hits on the systems.
For Israel this move has both good and bad aspects: On the one hand it will be a relief for Israeli air crews to know that when they go for Syria’s S-300 air defense batteries, they need not fear hurting Russian troops; but, on the other, by managing Syria’s air defenses, Iran further strengthens is military foothold in Syria, which the Netanyahu government is dedicated to rooting out. By the same token, Iran takes Moscow’s decision as an endorsement of its claim to a solid military presence in Syria.

On Oct. 7, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would soon be meeting with President Vladimir Putin, although a date had not been set. So, while the two leaders continue to smile and go through the motions of amicable relations, Russia continues to shock, surprise and exacerbate tensions with Israel.

 

Israel and Russia – back to the future

October 8, 2018

Source: Israel and Russia – back to the future – Israel Hayom

Prof. Eyal Zisser

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was announced at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, will be among the most important the two have held in recent years.

On the docket will be more than the question of maintaining Israel’s freedom of action in Syria; the two leaders will determine the future of the countries’ relations in the wake of the deep crisis caused by the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defenses in September.

Along with the announcement of the impending meeting, a report in the Arab media on Sunday said Russia has offered to mediate between Israel and Iran to lower tensions between the two rivals, reach understandings and delineate red lines regarding Iranian activity in Syria. Such a development would help stave off the breakout of an Israeli-Iranian war, which many view as inevitable and a matter of time.

Perhaps Moscow has deemed its “punishment” measures against Israel sufficient – whether the harsh tone it has adopted or more importantly the S-300 anti-aircraft system it has delivered to the Syrian army – which could restrict Israel’s maneuverability over Syria.

Netanyahu and Putin will therefore meet as old friends, but it’s vital that Israel learn the appropriate lessons from the incident and its fallout. It seems the incident was simply an excuse for the Russians to expedite steps they had intended to implement regardless upon the war’s end – whether to impose restrictions on the Israeli air force or to supply advanced weapons to the Syrians.

We should keep in mind that at Israel’s inception, Israeli-Russian relations were exceedingly positive. Russia, not the United States, rallied to support the fledgling Jewish state and gave it weapons – albeit indirectly through Czechoslovakia. Russia also opened its gates to hundreds of thousands of Jews to emigrate from Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe. Russia, or more precisely the former Soviet Union, didn’t do this because of its love for Jews; it did so mainly because of its hatred for Great Britain and its allies in the Arab world.

In very short order, however, the Soviet Union altered course. Israel refused to be a Soviet satellite, as the Soviets had hoped, while in the Arab states, for example Egypt and Syria, anti-Western military dictatorships ascended to power. These regimes sought weapons, and the Soviet Union wasted little time providing them.

This weaponry helped the Soviet Union establish a grip on the Arab world, but also contributed to exacerbating tensions between Israel and the Arabs and ultimately pushed the region to war. Such was the case in 1956, and again in 1967. The inevitable result was the gradual deterioration of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Moscow, until they were completely severed in 1967.

While the Russian president doesn’t conceal his desire to restore his country’s glorious past as a global superpower, Putin’s Russia isn’t the Soviet Union – certainly not when it comes to Israel. But many things in Moscow have indeed remained unchanged. Chiefly, Russia’s political and military bureaucracies still harbor a burning hatred for the U.S. and the West. Israel – whether it likes it or not – is perceived by Moscow as part of the Western bloc. Secondly, selling advanced weapons was and remains a winning card for the Russians, in their attempt to expand their sphere of influence across the globe and of course the Middle East.

In this context, it’s important to remember that although Israel is a country with which Moscow maintains friendly relations, Iran is the strategic ally helping them penetrate the Middle East. Moreover, Iran and Russia have a common enemy – the United States.

Israel’s interest is clearly to rehabilitate its understandings with Moscow – and just as importantly its friendly relations with it. At the same time, however, it’s imperative to understand the challenges Israel will still face in the Russian context.

In this regard, we must realize that unlike Israel’s relationship with the U.S. – which is strongly supported by American public opinion, buttressed by a system of checks and balances between the administration and Congress that restricts unexpected policy fluctuations – in Russia everything starts and ends in the Kremlin.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.