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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.

Israel’s moratorium on building in the West Bank settlements began in November of last year. It was aimed at demonstrating Israeli willingness to compromise and enticing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas into peace talks, as fervently desired by Obama. The moratorium was a major and precarious concession because the West Bank is disputed territory to which both the Israeli and Palestinian sides stake a claim. Halting Israeli construction there while Palestinian construction continued apace gave a message that was prejudicial and possibly harmful to Israel.

Nevertheless, Abbas continued to stonewall talks until finally — by all accounts — being “dragged” into them a few weeks ago by relentless U.S. and European pressure. He now, though, vows to bolt them — unless Israel extends the building freeze. And now the Obama administration’s pressure is on Israel, to comply with Abbas’s wishes, even though the moratorium was a gratuitous concession in the first place and its extension would rock Netanyahu’s coalition and threaten its breakup.


As Iran keeps advancing toward nuclear weapons despite sanctions, Syria keeps arming with Russian backing, and their proxies Hezbollah and Hamas keep building their power in southern Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. Jerusalem should be focusing on these threats instead of facing what is in effect a U.S.-orchestrated power play to make it give up — in the name of “peace” — West Bank territory that is even more strategic. But the Obama administration’s penchant for being soft toward foes and tough on friends continues, and Israel is bearing the brunt of it.

In another development, Israel’s ostensible peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, has reaffirmed the death penalty for the misdeed of selling land to Israelis. Although a lower court had ruled that such sales were a “minor offense,” the PA’s prosecutor-general appealed to a higher court, which ruled that the original sentence of death was appropriate for such acts.

As noted by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh:

In 1997, the PA announced that it would seek the death penalty for any Palestinian convicted of selling land to Jews or Israelis. … Although the PA has thus far refrained from executing those convicted of selling land to Jews, there have been many extrajudicial killings of Palestinian suspects over the past decades.

Why would a U.S. administration regard turning this political entity — along with Gaza, even more barbaric under Hamas — into a sovereign state as a cardinal interest? Why would it pursue this goal obsessively to the point of relentlessly undermining a democratic ally, while showing weakness and passivity toward real threats and adversaries? These are indeed difficult questions.


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