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RUSSIAN ARMS SALE ROILS ISRAEL

Israeli Officials: 'Russia's Billion Dollar Sale Of Advanced Missiles Will Encourage Syria To Go To War Against Israel'

Former IDF Intelligence Chief Ze'evi - Farkash: 'Advanced Anti-tank & Aircraft Rockets Could Tip Balance Of Power Against Israel - Weapons Will Be Handed On To Hezbollah'

Prof. Galia Golan: 'Russia Is Interested mainly In Making Fast Rubble Not In Renewing Cold War Confrontation With U.S.'

Russian President Putin and Syrian President Assad

Israeli officials charge that a billion dollar sale of Russian anti-tank and anti-missile rockets will encourage Syria to go to war against Israel. The new anti-tank missiles were said to be more accurate and effective than the Russian weapons that destroyed a number of Israeli tanks in last summer's war with Hezbollah. Moscow had sold those weapons to Damascus but they ended up in the hands of Hezbollah fighters. Some Israeli experts warn the sale of such advanced weaponry to Syria could alter the balance of power with the Jewish state. Does the latest weapons sale to Syria signal that Russia is renewing its cold war confrontation here in the Middle East or are the Russians trying 'to make a fast rubble'? IsraCast interviewed Prof. Galia Golan, Prof. (Emeritus) of the Hebrew University and currently Professor of Government at the Herzliya Inter-Disciplinary Center. Professor Golan assessed the latest Russian arms sale as well as other aspects of Russian policy.

Interview with Prof. Galia Golan

Prof. Galia Golan

Q : We are speaking now with Prof. Galia Golan, an internationally known expert on Russia and Eastern Europe.

Israel has reacted very strongly to this latest Russian arms sale to Syria, and plans on protesting to Moscow. Does this sale signal that Russia is renewing the cold war in the Middle East and its global confrontation with the U.S., or is it a matter of the Russians simply trying to make another fast Ruble?

A: I tend to think of fast Ruble, that is - I tend to think that the major factor here is economic. We can go in a minute to the issue of the cold war, but certainly their policy has been, ever since the brake up of the Soviet Union and even a little bit before, to deal only for cash payment or certainly good prepayment. In other words, they stopped giving away arms, they stopped providing long term loans, and so forth. Their business has been purely business, and in this sense they have become the major arms salesman in the world. Today they are the largest seller of arms in the world, that surpassed the United States, and when Syria for example, or other countries, could not pay, they simply did not provide the arms. Today Syria can pay, Iran apparently is providing the money, so I do think it is primarily economic, but that is not to say that they don't have interest here of a political or power nature. Certainly they have always wanted to play a role; they have always wanted to be considered a super power. They lost that, of course, when the Soviet Union collapsed, but virtually every leader since the Soviet Union, every Russian President and in particular Putin, has tried none the less to restore some of Russia's position in the world vis-?-vis the West, vis-?-vis the United States. I am not sure I would call this a cold war so much as an effort to have influence, to be counted, to be dealt with and brought into virtually the major decisions around the world. The Middle East is one of those places. The Middle East has a specific interest for Russia, this is an area now where the United States is definitely in a weakened position and Putin may believe that he can move into what will become something of a vacuum, certainly can compete with the Americans today, but I don't see this as a cold war, we could certainly discuss that further.

Q: But it is not only Syria, the Russians have also been building the Iranian nuclear reactors and selling them nuclear technology. Is this not a very irresponsible role in light of the fact that the international community is trying to impose sanctions? And we saw last December that Moscow watered down those sanctions on Iran as much as it could?

A: The Russian involvement in the Iranian nuclear effort has been there for a long time. Certainly it started primarily for economic reasons, there were some internal domestic power plays also taking place within Russia over it, and various interests that they have in Iran all together, but this is nothing new. If anything, what they have done is pulled back a little, not in terms of what they are willing to sell or supply, but they have been a bit more forthcoming in recent times over the kinds of deals that the Western countries have been trying to make, in other words the trying to limit the ability of Iran to enrich uranium, offering that this be done in Russia. These things nave been turned down by Iran, but there have been efforts by Russia to be a little bit more cooperative with the rest of the world on this. That doesn't mean they will stop and of course they aren't stopping. They have primarily an economic interest in Iran, but they also have other interests in Iran - one of them is that the relationship with Iran sort of helps them in terms of balance or power vis-?-vis the United States. Certainly one of the things they have in common with Iran is a very, I would say, competitive or even a negative view of the United States. They also, by the way, have other interests vis-?-vis Iran, not only gas and oil deals, that are certainly old, but also Russia continues to consider it a security border, the old borders of the Soviet Union and that was indeed the longest border that the Soviet Union had with any country. While there are now five independent countries on that border, including Russia, Russia still considers this a security interest - that is to keep that border relatively neutral. And this is just part of many of their interests vis-?-vis Iran, but I think what we see today is on one hand, for economic reasons, an attempt to maintain their role in Iran and Iranian nuclear development, and on the other hand a desire to maintain good relationship with Iran. And that would account for their opposition to all out sanctions against Iran. They are playing a very delicate game, because they do know also, that at some point in the future a nuclear Iran could be a danger to them or a threat to them just as it could be a threat to other countries. I don't think they are overjoyed with having a nuclear Iran on their old border, but in weighing it all I think the economic and even the politics vis-?-vis the United States outweighs the potential danger for them.

Q: In the light of these large economic factors as you have just described, does Israel have any chance in approaching directly President Putin in Moscow? There was an Israeli cabinet Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who went there this week, but he apparently didn't achieve a lot from what we have been hearing about this arms sale?

A: No, I don't think that there is very much that Israel can do. We have an interest, of course, in maintaining a good relationship with Russia and in trying to curb their arms deliveries, or to discourage them from getting too deeply involved with Iran or with Syria in the arms area, but I don't think that we have very much power, we don't have much to offer Russia, I don't think that we can really do very much except to continue to complain and to try to temper them. The game is much, much bigger than Israel. The game is Russia and the world, and I don't want to put it "Russia against the world". Russia certainly looks for allies in France, in Germany, it is not an East-West thing anymore by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I think Putin wants to have an all out competition with the United States. I think the Russian economy is too deeply tied to Western Europe and even to a large degree United States business interests. There are too many things that link these countries today to justify an all out competitive position such as we had in the cold war. Of course, Putin may not be acting totally rationally, what I say is of course sort of a rational analysis from outside, but leaders often do things that are not rational. But my impression is that Russia is simply continuing to pursue something that was there all along and that is the effort to be a player on the world scene and to be considered a player on the world scene, and if America is in a somewhat weakened position in the region, then this is a good opportunity for Russia to move, but it is still moving only on a cash and carry basis. Its political interest is not outweighing its economic interest.

Q: But when it comes to the bigger game we have this situation where the U.S. is offering Poland and the Czech Republic an American antimissile system, which it says could help them protect themselves against Iranian nuclear missiles, which the Russians are helping to build in some ways, and the Russian reaction -a senior officer commenting very tartly that Russian nuclear missiles could target Poland and the Czech Republic as a result of this, so isn't this also a part of the bigger picture?

A: I think it is disturbing certainly, the Russians were not entirely happy when the Americans began to use Central Asia as a launching ground for their efforts in Afghanistan for example, and I think that now this placement of the American missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic is a real concern, a genuine concern for Russia. I am not entirely sure what the Americans are up to, I know that American policy until now has been not to alienate Russia, even during the difficult period when Russia, Putin, was opposing America's going to war in Iraq, the Americans still tried to keep things on a very even keel, and yet the placement of missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, I think is a very provocative act. To justify it as a possible defense against an Iranian bomb in the future I find very, very weak and I suspect the Russians found it very weak. They have always had concerns about the expansion of NATO and having missiles so close, if not on their western border, and I repeat - they look at the former Soviet Republics as something of a security build, even though these Republics are totally independent today. So these things are of great concern to the Russians and Putin is reacting very strongly.

Q: Prof. Galia Golan, thank you very much indeed.

A: Thank you.

Transcript by Dar Translations
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David Essing

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