Why Russia supports Iran

Still dangerous

Still dangerous

Recently, PM Netanyahu traveled to the Kremlin to try to talk Russian President Vladimir Putin out of sending advanced weapons, including the S-300 air defense system, to Syria.

Although I wasn’t there, my guess was that Netanyahu said something like, “don’t do this, because if you do we will have to bomb them.” In particular, the S-300 would make it much harder for Israel to interdict arms transfers to Hizballah, or prevent possible chemical attacks against Israel by Syrian rebels or Hizballah, if they should get control of some of Assad’s arsenal.

According to American officials, Netanyahu’s arguments were not successful:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute trip to Russia on Tuesday apparently did not change the Russians’ intentions to also deliver the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Syria. According to the [Wall St.] Journal, U.S. officials believe that Russia is moving more quickly than previously thought to deliver S-300 surface-to-air defense systems to Syria. U.S. officials told the paper that the S-300 system, which is capable of shooting down guided missiles and could make it more risky for any warplanes to enter Syrian airspace, could leave Russia for Syrian port of Tartus by the end of May.

Together, the S-300 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system, and the Yakhont anti-ship system, would pose a formidable threat to any outside intervention in Syria, based on the international Libya model. The anti-ship missiles would be a serious threat to the Israeli navy, as well as the facilities above Israel’s newfound underwater gas reserves. The S-300 could threaten Israeli military and civilian aircraft flying Israeli airspace, and not just over Lebanese and Syrian airspace.

Providing weapons like this to the unstable Syrian regime (or even a stable one) is remarkably irresponsible; but then, this is Putin. My guess is that Putin countered with threats of his own if Israel interferes with Russian actions.

Dore Gold explains which weapons Israel considers ‘game changers’ that it cannot permit to fall into the hands of Hizballah:

a. Chemical weapons.

b. Iranian surface-to-surface missiles equipped with heavy warheads, like the Fateh 110, which has a highly destructive 600 kg. warhead as compared to the 30 kg. warhead on Hizbullah’s Katyusha rockets that it launched against Israel in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

c. Long-range anti-aircraft missiles, like the Russian-manufactured SA-17, which can limit the freedom of action of the Israeli Air Force if deployed by Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. The SA-17 uses a mobile launcher. Israeli diplomacy has been especially concerned with the Russian sale of even more robust S-300 anti-aircraft missiles by Russia to Syria, though there are no indications that Hizbullah is a potential recipient of this system.

d. Long-range anti-ship missiles, like the Russian supersonic Yakhont cruise missile, that has a range of 300 km. and can strike at Israeli offshore gas rigs in the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia recently sent a shipment of the missiles which will be added to an initial inventory of 72 missiles received first in 2011.

If Iran manages to prop up Assad at the price of turning Syria into a wholly-owned satrapy, then I’m not sure that it would be much better than if Hizballah itself had the weapons, from an Israeli point of view. Israel’s deterrence will be markedly weakened if the decision to use such weapons is taken out of the hands of a semi-autonomous Syrian regime and placed in Iran.

What motivates the Russians?

I think they have decided correctly that control of the Muslim Middle East hangs in the balance, with the main players in the struggle being Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni elements, and Turkey. I think they have decided that the ‘strong horse’ is Iran and the Shiites. In addition, Russia faces challenges from Sunni Islamists within Russia itself and in Muslim states bordering it.

Russia has also always been unhappy with a Western-aligned nuclear power like Israel so close by. In fact some historians have suggested that the Soviets provoked Syria and Egypt to make war on Israel in 1967 in order to justify a strike on Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona. Israel is also shaping up to be a future rival to Russian domination of the natural gas supply to Europe. An Iranian victory — and incidentally the end of the Jewish state — would be just fine for them.

Ugly? You bet. The forces opposing the Iran-Russia axis include the hostile and economically devastated Egypt, the super-extreme Sunni Salafists (some allied with al-Qaeda), the neo-Ottoman Islamist Turkish regime, Saudi Arabia — and the United States, which may or may not still be a formidable military power, but certainly does not appear to have the resolve to confront Iran, not to mention Russia.

But Israel has survived, even thrived, against similar odds before.

Shabbat shalom!

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6 Responses to “Why Russia supports Iran”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    With the Russians so forcefully and openly behind them the Syrians will be a bit more bold and dangerous. They reportedly have rolled out accurate long- range missiles capable of striking major targets in Israel.
    If this is the case our prevention of Hizbollah’s attaining more accurate missiles can be seen as a partial measure against a problem we have no absolute answer for. i.e. The ability of our enemies whether Syria or Hizbollah to cause great damage to Israeli infrastructure, to disrupt life completely in Israel.
    Should we preempt now and bring tremendous destruction and disruption on ourselves? Or should we wait and so allow the enemy to build even greater destrufctive power?
    I do not know the answer.

  2. Robman says:

    Shalom:

    Easy for me to say from over here, I know, but I think you should – and you will – wind up pre-empting, probably after Syria does something that gives Israel at least a fig leaf’s worth of justification in terms of provocation.

    As Vic’s piece above relates, Netanyau made it clear that shipping the S-300 to Syria was not acceptable to Israel. A couple of years ago, Israel even seized a Russian vessel on the high seas that was shipping these missiles to Iran. I have read elsewhere that Netanyahu had gone so far as to warn Putin that providing such weapons to Syria could very well touch off a major regional war.

    As with the recent strikes in Syria against Iranian-supplied missiles, I expect that Israel will take out any S-300s that make it to Syria before they become operational. Then the ball is in Syria’s court, and Assad has already warned that further Israeli strikes will be retaliated against. These are the opening moves of a major war, clearly being telegraphed. I’d say we’re looking at better than even odds this is going to play out very soon.

    Where it goes from there, I do not know. However, I have confidence in the IDF and our G-d.

    Stay safe over there, Shalom.

  3. Shalom Freedman says:

    Is there a way of truly pre-empting. Or is there only a way of seriously damaging the other side, and opening a war?
    I may be wrong but it seems to me that any pre-emption necessarily involves a large ground operation in Lebanon. Hizbollah must be defeated even largely destroyed. This will involve large casualties.
    ‘Iron Dome’ may stop a large share of the missiles. But just a few hitting downtown Tel Aviv will mean the paralysis of the Israeli economy. It may be even far worse with them able to hit strategic targets.
    It seems to me the one justification for doing this is preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
    Perhaps we can delay Iran but perhaps not. The U.S. most say can do this better than we can.
    PS The situation looks much worse today with Russia now so openly on the side of Syria, Hizbollah and Iran.

  4. Shalom Freedman says:

    Ron Ben Yishai has a long article on Ynet in which he claims that Israel has no ‘ground option’ for preventing Hizbollah rocket attacks.
    He also believes that Syria will be cautious because they know that Israel can destroy every asset the regime has.
    The question of transferring weapons to Hizbollah seems to be the fragile element that could ignite the situation into a total war.
    I feel now quite over my head in talking about this.
    I am worried but I do not know if the greater worry should be about our doing something now and suffering the consequences of it, or waiting and suffering even worse consequences later.

  5. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I agree that the situation has never been more dangerous. It is a fact, though, that if things should blow up, Assad can’t survive. If he is rational, he will understand this. On the other hand, who knows what the Russians are telling him?
    I think the answer lies in a deal between Israel and Russia that will keep Assad in power and allow Israel to take out Hizballah and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Russia can’t want a nuclear Iran.
    Of course trusting the survival of the state to Russia fulfilling its part in a deal is pretty scary.
    Note that the paper tiger on this side of the Atlantic has nothing to do with anything.

  6. Shalom Freedman says:

    I do not think Russia will make any kind of deal with Israel. As you pointed out Russia might well prefer and be working for our destruction. We are after all in the enemy camp.
    I also am not certain that you are right about Obama. They are under a lot of pressure and criticism and also do not have any good options. Afghanistan and Iraq are failures very costly failures. They are not eager to do this. But I don’t believe Obama can concede a nuclear Iran without totally humiliating himself, and guaranteeing himself a place in the history books as a weak and ineffectual President.
    For us there is not I believe a Russia option but only an American option. They are our allies and the ties reportedly are closer than ever. We have to coordinate our actions with theirs as much as possible, and not be afraid to defy them if necessary.
    The problem as I see it is that even if the Americans act against Iran all the Iranian, Syrian, Hizbollah response will be at us. This is what worries me, the attacks on us -especially the missiles.

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