Bear Hug
By: P. David Hornik
Monday, March 05, 2007

It’s time to drop our remaining illusions about where Russia stands in the War on Terror.
The Israeli daily Haaretz quotes Shimon Peres, Israel’s dovish vice-prime minister whose fine sensors never stopped detecting a desire for peace in Yasser Arafat, as saying “The United Nations is aware that weapons-smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah is continuing. Israel must exert pressure on Moscow so it stops supplying the Syrians with weapons.”

Peres’s statement comes just as Syria, reports Haaretz, “is close to concluding a large deal with Russia to procure thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles for the Syrian army.” This is particularly ominous since in last summer’s war, Hezbollah used Russian-supplied, Syrian-transferred antitank missiles against Israeli tanks, in some cases penetrating the armor of Israel’s highly touted Merkava Mark IV.


Although a subsequent study by the Israel Defense Forces found that only a small number of tanks were damaged, some of them minimally, by the missiles, Hezbollah and its many Middle Eastern admirers and spectators gained a psychological boost from the exploit.


After the war a high-level Israeli delegation showed the evidence of Hezbollah’s use of the missiles to Russian officials. Russia seemed to take heed and promised to reconsider its upcoming arms deals with Syria so the weapons would not again end up in Hezbollah’s hands. The problem is that Russia was lying and cheating. 


Peres, in holding out hopes for solving the problem through “pressure,” was behaving much like Israel’s ally the United States. Reuters reports that on Saturday, the new six-power talks—involving the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia—on augmenting UN sanctions against Iran already got bogged down. The countries “failed . . . to settle all their differences,” and “envoys said proposals for a total arms embargo would be dropped because of Russian objections as would a ban on visas for students studying nuclear technology abroad.”


Expecting Russia to comply in seriously deterring Iran at this point seems about as sensible as expecting it to be horrified that arms its supplied to Syria mysteriously ended up with Hezbollah. After years of helping Iran develop its nuclear capacity, Russia in late December transferred to Iran thirty Tor-M1 air-defense missile systems to protect that same nuclear capacity against attack. Iran already successfully test-fired the missiles last month.


Russia is not the only one of the “six powers” to be problematic. At the talks, Washington also kept trying to get its European “partners” to stop giving export credits—Germany and France being the most generous—to companies doing business in Iran. But if Europe—to the extent it still has any desire to defend its civilization—is guilty of “selling Iran the rope” to hang it, Russia is helping Iran knot the noose.  


Back in Israel’s neighborhood, indications are that the Russia-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis keeps strengthening itself in the wake of last summer’s failed Israeli offensive and failed UN resolution that curtailed Israel while purporting to salvage something from its efforts.


On February 26 the London Times reported that Hezbollah is building its presence in Lebanon north of the Litani River by concentrating its forces there and buying large expanses of land from Christian and Druze owners—with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt saying “The state of Hezbollah is already in existence in south Lebanon.” On Friday the Jerusalem Post reported that “Syria has spent the past few months constructing and moving infrastructure to its southern border that could be used to launch a war against Israel.” IDF officers said that “weapons reach Hezbollah from Syria on a weekly basis, usually at night, evading UNIFIL peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon.”


Russia’s role in the Middle East—including its growing penetration of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states—puts it beyond the pale of diplomatic persuasion and hopes of friendliness and reasonability. Its presence on the UN Security Council casts a long shadow over hopes of stopping Iran’s nuclearization via sanctions. Putin appears to be drawing on a deep wellspring of anti-Western hatred that enables him to ally with forces as seemingly alien as Shiite-fundamentalist Iran and Hezbollah with their vaguely-Shiite accomplice the Assad regime.


The U.S. and Israeli dream of stopping this alliance with measures short of war is, unfortunately, rapidly dissolving.


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P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.