Posted by Joshua on Friday, August 22nd, 2008
The Russian move into Georgia has begun a tectonic shift in the region. It has emboldened Syria, Hizbullah and Iran to push harder against Israel and the US in an attempt to capitalize on recent set backs in the Balkans, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
Hizbullah's and the Lebanese opposition's success in rolling back the influence of the March 14 coalition in Lebanon has emboldened Syria to push its advantage.
The peace talks with Israel, which Syria is counting on, have stalled due to US opposition and Israel's conviction that Syria is asking too high a price for the Golan. The notion that Syria is weak and unable to deliver a shift in the regional security balance has led to its isolation over the last 6 years and to the failure of peace talks under president Clinton. An Obama advisor, Daniel Kurtzer, has recently asked Syria to make deeper concessions to Israel in order to move the talks to another level. The implicit threat in such advice is that the Obama team of policy makers will follow the Bush administration in shunning the Syria-Israel negotiation track, unless Syria is forthcoming. In short, the democrats agree with Israel that Syria is too weak and demanding too high a price from Israel. Israel recently acquired new promises from Washington for technology transfers and missile improvements that improve Israel's defense posture. This has emboldened it to demand deep Syrian concessions in the peace negotiations. (see Ahram article below)
Syria's bad negotiating position is leading it to look for more weapons and to try to grow more teeth before returning to the table with Israel. Both Assad and Hizbullah are hoping to get new weapons systems from Russia and greater diplomatic backing. Israel cannot afford to sit idly by as Syria and Hizbullah flex their muscles. They are raising the military bar themselves, suggesting that they are not frightened to use force and next time they strike, it will be much more devastating and effective than it was in 2006. If Syria can up the ante, so can Israel. Yesterday, Israel threatened that if it bombs again, Lebanon will be smashed in its entirety – the North and Beirut will not be spared. It is in this context that Hizbullah threatens today that "Israel will no longer exist on the map," when it strikes back.
This is a new war of words. For the time being the diplomatic jockeying is tactical and not a game changer. All eyes remain on the peace process. Nevertheless, the increasingly bellicose rhetoric is not propicious for peace. We will have to see if all sides can climb down from their new and hardened stands to make compromises that will lead to a peace deal. There is little chance of the peace process advancing during the next year of elections and reorganization in the US. In the mean time, both Israel and Syria will be elbowing each other.
[end of analysis]
News Round Up:
Under Moscow's wing
Events in Georgia have had some surprising repercussions in the Middle East, leaving Syria looking perkier than usual
James Denselow, Guardian
Friday August 22 2008
Israel's involvement with the Georgian military has been somewhat overlooked in light of more blatant US support, such as the airlift of some 2,000 Georgian troops from Iraq at the start of the conflict. However Misha Glenny spotted it, writing in the New Statesman that Prime Minister Putin warned President Shimon Peres to "pull out your trainers and weapons or we will escalate our co-operation with Syria and Iran" – after which Israel dutifully complied.
Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah also spotted it and subsequently mocked Israel's withdrawal, claiming that "the entire front line of the [Israeli] army's brass stepped down because of the [Lebanon] war. Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him."
The Russians are indeed emboldened by their sweeping victory which has highlighted the impotence of both the US and Nato. Jonathan Spyer, in the Jerusalem Post, described Russian action as throwing down "a direct challenge to the US-dominated post Cold-war international order" and expressed concern over Moscow's willingness to supply Syria with the S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missile system, a defensive measure that has the potential to impede Israeli airstrikes such as the one that targeted a suspected Syrian nuclear site last September.
Then the BBC reported yesterday that Syria's President Assad met with President Medvedev at the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss "deals on anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems".
Like any customer visiting his main arms dealer, Assad praised Russian actions in Georgia, explaining that "we understand the Russian stance and the Russian military response as a result of the provocations which took place. We appreciate the courageous decision taken by the Russian leadership in responding to the international initiatives and the start of withdrawing its forces".
Assad also signalled his willingness to have Russian Iskander missiles (which according to GlobalSecurity.org are capable of overcoming the enemy's anti-missile defences and hitting targets at a distance of 280 kilometers) situated on Syrian territory, although he refused to commit to any timeline for such a deployment.
The Syrians have survived six years of Isolation led by Washington and Tel Aviv following 9/11, an isolation that has only shown recent signs of ending. If a small country like Syria can survive years of western isolation then the Russian bear empowered with petrodollars and a stable, if undemocratic, leadership, will surely feel more confident in throwing its foreign policy weight around.
The Times reported that Russia's activism, particularly in arms dealing, was sparking fears of a Middle East "Cold War". …. (read the rest)
Senior U.S. officials severely criticized Syria on Thursday after Syrian President Bashar Assad voiced his country's support of Russia in its military conflict with Georgia, saying that Syria should keep out of issues that don't pertain to them.
The officials suggested that Syria refrain from meddling in the affairs of other nations, "such as Georgia," Channel 10 reported Thursday. They added that Syria should remain focused on its own problems in the Middle East and keep trying to achieve peace in the region.
Hizbullah threatened "earth shattering" retaliation against Israel which the group accuses of killing its top commander Imad Mughniyeh in a car bombing in Damascus last February.
"Retaliation is coming soon," Hizbullah official in south Lebanon Sheikh Ahmad Mrad said in remarks published by the daily Al Akhbar on Friday. "Retaliation is going to be earth shattering and there will be huge surprises," he vowed. "Resistance weapons will stay in the hands of Hizbullah until Palestine is liberated," Mrad pledged. He declared that Hizbullah would go deep into Palestine and vowed that "Israel will no longer exist on the map."
In Haaretz, here (Thanks to Friday Lunch Club)
"…Earlier Thursday, Assad backed Russia's military action against Georgia at talks with President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday
…According to Russian media, Assad offered to host the Russian missiles as a response to a deal signed by Washington and Warsaw this week to deploy elements of a U.S. missile defense system in Poland, which has aggravated Moscow's relations with the West. Assad's visit is likely to become an additional irritant for Washington. In the past, the United States has more than once warned Moscow against selling arms to its longstanding ally Syria….."
August 23, 2008
THE visit to Moscow by the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has received saturation coverage in Syria, with the media reporting the trip as a move to strengthen already close relations between the nations.
Israeli media described Mr Assad's two-day visit to Moscow as a "weapons shopping trip", but the Syrian Government broadcaster carried a statement yesterday morning angrily denying the reports.
Israeli and Russian media reported yesterday that he had offered to host Russian Iskander missiles on Syrian territory.
The reports said Mr Assad had made the offer in response to a deal signed by Washington and Poland this week to deploy elements of a US missile defence system in Poland. The Syrian statement, shown on Damascus television last night, said the reports were groundless.
Syria's Al-Watan newspaper, a self-described independent political broadsheet, reported that Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, had told Mr Assad that Russia was ready to help Syria build a defensive shield. But it said Mr Lavrov had not indicated that Russia was willing to supply Syria with weapons that could be used to attack another country.
"We are indeed prepared to sell only defensive weapons which do not violate the regional balance of power," Mr Lavrov was quoted as saying.
Russia's acting ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Yurkov, was even more direct.
"Why in the world would we need to deploy our missiles [in Syria]? Against whom? We have no enemies in the region," he told the Israeli news site Ynet.
Al-Thawra, the official newspaper of the ruling Ba'ath party, carried a front-page headline trumpeting Mr Assad's visit. It reported that President Dmitry Medvedev had emphasised Russia's warm friendship with Syria, and pledged to help Syria regain control of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel's US missile shield
Aug. 21, 2008, al-Ahram
While Israel appears the beneficiary of US interests in the Middle East region, its place is ultimately as one pillar under a US strategic umbrella, writes Galal Nassar
During his visit to the US last month, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak announced that Washington would soon link Israel to two advanced missile detection systems that would strengthen Israel's preparedness against any Iranian threat. Following his meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak also announced that Israel and the US were at an advanced stage in talks on upgrading Israel's Arrow-II ballistic shield, though they disagreed over whether it should incorporate an American interceptor missile. He told reporters that Washington would also increase Israel's access to its Defence Support Programme (DPS) satellites that can detect missile launches, adding that the US and Israeli governments "see eye to eye on the need to keep all options on the table, though we may not agree on each and every detail. It's important the Americans understand our position, and I think that they understand it a lot better after this visit."
|Click to view caption|
The Pentagon has also agreed to install a powerful radar system in Israel in the coming months. Israeli officials described the system as capable of tracking an object the size of a baseball from about 4,700 kilometres away; it would enable Arrow to engage an Iranian Shehab-3 ballistic missile about halfway through what would be its 11 minute flight to Israel.
According to Al-Ahram Weekly sources, after heavy pressure on the part of the Israeli defence minister, Washington agreed to include Israel in the US global satellite defence system, capable of spotting missile launches on a constant rather than per-request basis. They also said that Israel has been seeking assurances of logistical support from Washington in the event that the Israeli army is forced to launch an assault. In addition, Washington will help finance and upgrade the Iron Dome antiballistic shield, which will strengthen Israel's protection against Qassam missiles, and it will also finance a new phase in the Arrow project. The new Arrow III antiballistic system would be capable of shooting down missiles at greater atmospheric heights. Informed sources told the Weekly that all these secret talks, arrangements and agreements ultimately aim to include Israel in the American missile shield. …. (read the rest)
Sami Moubayed writes: "Overall, however, the crisis is playing nicely into the hands of Syria, which is using it to strengthen its ties with an old and resurrected friend, send messages to a traditional foe (Israel, and pressure the United States into changing course over Damascus.
Although the "great red army that defeated Hitler" was never a match for the American one that ended World War II and helped bring down the Soviet Union, it was always an influential player in the complex web of Middle East politics, and seemingly signals one thing: the Russians are back, and the Syrians are making the best out of it.
Lysander wrote in the last comment section:
I want to address some points by AIG et al regarding the notion that a new cold war would benefit Israel more than Syria.
A true cold war scenario (if one were to actually happen) is of no benefit to Israel at all. Its influence over American politics has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 years in the absence of any Russian threat and being able to say its ‘protecting’ the west from mighty Syria is unlikely to add to that.
By contrast, the realist camp will argue that to persuade Syria…and Iran…to leave the Russian camp concessions will have to be made. Such concessions are hardly necessary if Syria is alone. But in a global competition Syria has options. I would not dismiss this effect. I doubt Sadat could have possibly gotten the Camp David deal were it not for America’s desire to place Egypt firmly in the American camp. Does anyone disagree? Zbig Brzerzinski was NSA in Carter’s tie. He is Obama’s advisor now.
AIG is correct that Western tech and trade would be much better for Syria. Alas, that option doesn’t exist. Until recently, Syria had a large target sign on its head and can count itself lucky America was too distracted in Iraq. So Assad’s choices are Russian help or nothing. Russian tech is definitely better than nothing. Otherwise, nobody in Israel would care about Russian rearmament of Syria and yet they clearly do.
Outside of Syria, it presents new found leverage to America’s “moderate” allies (Egypt, Saudi Arabia)
Again I would add that cold war is hardly inevitable. The Russians would love to cooperate with the west. They have no wish to aquire a Syrian dependent. But with any push to get Georgia in NATO and insistence on the missile shield, Russia will find a way to retaliate.
P.S. I would add that the same is triply true for Iran. Also, Assad may very well have miscalculated, not by picking the wrong horse. But by discovering the horse wont let him ride. Russia may very well rebuff Syria’s request for closer relations, which means Assad will have annoyed the west but gotten nothing in return.