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MACHIAVELLI IN MOSCOW

Former Mossad Official: 'President Putin Doing Business As Usual With Tehran While Depending On Future U.S. Strike To Knock Out Iranian Nuclear Facilities'

Prime Minister Olmert & Defense Minister Barak Present Israel's Concerns to Putin In Moscow & President Bush In Washington

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The looming Iranian nuclear threat has been placed front row center on the international agenda - U.S. President George Bush has warned an Iranian bomb could spark World War III while his Russian counter- part chooses to say there is no evidence that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. China, annoyed by Bush over his meeting with the Dalai Lama, shows no sign that it will support the American appeal for tougher sanctions. Meanwhile Israeli leaders, who have declared they cannot acquiesce in Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons, have been presenting their concerns in Moscow and Washington. Opinion poll indicates most Israelis favor using military force to prevent nuclear weapons falling into hands of President Ahmadinejad who threatens wipe Jewish state off the map.

The Iranian nuclear reactor

Is Putin's Russia potentially a greater threat to Israel than its predecessor the former Soviet Union? The communist commissars in the Kremlin armed the Arab states to the teeth lending them massive military and economic support in their drive to destroy the Jewish state. But the communist regime always balked at one hurdle - it did not sell nuclear know-how and nuclear reactors to the Arabs that could be utilized for developing nuclear weapons. During the Yom-Kippur War of 1973 the Kremlin even threatened to intervene militarily against Israel after the IDF recovered from the Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack. After that war, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made good on his plan to 'expel' the Soviets from the Middle East. But in the past, renowned Arabist Bernard Lewis foresaw that the Russians, with their own vested interests in the Middle East, would make a comeback. Iran is the focal point not only in the the regional sphere but also in the broader international arena. This is apparently what has been evolving in recent years posing dire implications for Israel although today Jerusalem enjoys full diplomatic and economic ties with Moscow. Moreover, Putin often speaks warmly about the Russian immigrants to Israel and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was able to fly urgently to Moscow at very short notice to express Israel's concern over Russia's apparent refusal to halt its sales of nuclear technology to Iran whose president Ahmadinejad loses no opportunity to talk about wiping the Jewish state off the map.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Putin set off alarm bells in Jerusalem by his statements in Tehran. The Russian leader, with Ahmadinejad at his side, declared without batting an eye-lash that: 'There was no evidence that Iran was bound on building nuclear weapons'. Recently, Israel's President Shimon Peres put it simply that every intelligence service in the world knows that Iran is trying to acquire the bomb. Tehran itself makes no bones about its 3,000 centrifuges that are spinning away to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Obviously, the Russians who are building the nuclear reactor in Busher know as much if not more than anyone else about Iran's nuclear program. In light of what appears to be Putin's own spin in Tehran, Russia has no intention of joining an accelerated campaign at the U.N. to impose more punitive sanctions to try and halt Iran going nuclear or to stop selling nuclear know-how to the ayatollahs. (In fact, there is no real scientific difference between peaceful and military nuclear development. The late Prof. Yuval Neeman, Israel's top nuclear physicist once said there is no separate nuclear theory for either - it depends on the intention of the country acquiring the technology. Canada once sold a nuclear reactor to India for peaceful purposes only to be surprised when India later detonated a nuclear weapon.)

So, despite Putin's spin about not allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons Russia will apparently continue to milk Iran in rubles with its nuclear sales. Moreover, the Iranian nuclear issue is Russia's pay- back for the U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense system in eastern Europe which Russian still views as part of its regional bailiwick. But are the Russians blind to the threat of a nuclear armed Iran driven by radical Islamist extremism on its very border? Is this not a nightmare for Putin and his general staff after their own bloody confrontation with Chechnya? Could they be repeating Russia's folly in World War II of trying to buy off the looming Nazi threat with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty that proved worse than worthless when Hitler decided the time was ripe to reveal his true intentions?

U.S. President George W. Bush

Surely today's Russian leaders are ware of the threat of the Iranian fallout, both nuclear and political. U.S. President George Bush made this abundantly clear in Washington when he warned that a nuclear Iran could trigger World War III. This escalation in rhetoric sounds almost like a last-ditch effort to rally international support to escalate the sanctions which both Russia and China oppose. But if anything the international players who might deter Iran by acting in concert appear to be headed their own separate ways. What other explanation is there for Bush's high - profile meeting with the with Dalai Lama that has so angered the Chinese. The fact that Bush held an unannounced session with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington has also focused on how Israel and the U.S. view the Iranian file at the highest level. (Attention Profs. Walt/ Mearsheimer: President Bush himself has put the Iranian case at the top of America's agenda and U.S. presidential candidates have also made it an issue so surely the Jewish lobby cannot be accused of manipulating the administration behind the scenes when it comes to any future U.S. course of action on Iran).

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also taken a tougher stand than Olmert on Israeli security concessions to the Palestinians, such as lifting West Bank checkpoints. Conceivably, the President could have urged Barak to reconsider in light of the upcoming Annapolis conference. At this point in time, Israel does not seem to be on the same page with Russia or China, two blocking members on the U.N. Security Council when it comes to stiffer sanctions. France, whose Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner first raised the specter of war with Iran, and Britain are still on board the 'diplomatic' attempt. But if Russia and China continue to oppose sanctions with teeth in light of Iran's consistent refusal to halt its nuclear weapons program the obvious conclusion is that they are not concerned enough to take action. Both choose to throw caution to the winds in their policy of realpolitik on the world stage. Possibly, but there is another explanation as well. Eliezer Zafrir, a former Israeli Mossad agent who served in Iran under the Shah, says Russia's President Putin may have adopted a Machiavellian approach. Moscow will make all the fast rubles it can by its nuclear sales to Iran while depending on the U.S. to take military action and knock out Iran's nuclear installations in the future.Where does Israel stand? A public opinion poll showed that a majority of Israelis favor a military strike against Iranian nuclear targets if Ahmadinejad tries passing the point of no return in acquiring the bomb.

David Essing

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