Mideast Strategic Perversity

Russia has decided to sell Syria P-800 Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles despite heavy Israeli and American protests.

Last month Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally asked Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to call off the sale. The U.S. is also described as putting up “stiff opposition” to it. Yet over the weekend, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced the sale in Washington during talks with U.S. Defense Minister Robert Gates.

Both the U.S. and Israel fear that the Yakhont, a difficult-to-intercept missile that cruises just above sea level at twice the speed of sound, could threaten their naval vessels in the Mediterranean. They are also concerned that Syria could transfer the missiles to Hezbollah. In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah hit an Israeli missile boat with a Chinese-made missile, killing four crew members. The missile had been smuggled into Lebanon through Syria.

That not even Israel’s superpower ally could dissuade Russia from taking this aggressive, dangerous step is unfortunately part of a pattern. Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz have noted in the Wall Street Journal that, even at a time when the major European states and Japan are cutting business ties with Iran, Russia (along with China) is stepping in to fill the void.

Russia’s energy conglomerate Gazprom, in particular, “continues to explore whether to expand Iran’s oil and gas pipelines, a critical development” that could offset Europe’s ban on the transfer of liquefied-gas technology to Tehran.

It was only last June that the Obama administration was hailing Russia’s (and China’s) aye vote on UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed stiffer sanctions on Iran, as a triumph of unity. More generally, Russia -- along with Iran itself -- is one of those countries inimical to the West with which Obama has earnestly sought to make friends.

Gerecht and Dubowitz now warn that U.S. failure to act against Russian and Chinese trade with Iran “will probably crack European resolve, collapsing our Iran policy.” So far there is no sign that Washington is heeding the warning.

Meanwhile outspoken Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said the U.S. is applying “massive” pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend Israel’s settlement moratorium beyond its rapidly approaching expiration date on September 26.

In other words, at a time when Israel’s security environment is worsening, in no small part because of the Obama administration’s strategic weakness, Israel is being pushed hard by that same administration into making its security environment even worse.