Despite controversy, Syria’s supposed Russian missiles threaten no one

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

M.S. Ahmed

Dhu al-Hijjah 21, 1425 2005-02-01

Occupied Arab World

by M.S. Ahmed (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 12, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1425)

Since 1967 Israel has been occupying the Golan Heights, which are a Syrian territory wrenched away in a war that has not formally ended; Syria has good legal, moral and political reasons to try to recover its land. But the missiles recently reported to have been supplied by Russia will not give it the military strength it needs to engage an adversary armed with superior weapons of mass destruction and the unswerving support of the “only superpower” in the world. President Vladimir Putin (no friend of Islam and Muslims, as his suppression of Chechnyashows) needs money and will sell arms to Syria, but not to the extent of enabling it become a threat to Israel’s dominance in the Middle East or of antagonising its American and European supporters. After all, Moscow did not vote against the anti-Syrian UN Security Council resolution 1559, and does not oppose the EU’s attempts to force Damascus to drop any plans or ambitions to acquire WMDs.

As Sergei Ivanov, Russian’s defence minister, said during his visit to the US in mid-January, Moscow was not engaged in negotiations with Syria about the sale of highly advanced missiles. This was an unmistakeable assertion that Moscow would not help Damascus to acquire sophisticated military technology, but it could also be interpreted as a plain refusal to deny that arms sales had been discussed, as reported earlier in the month. It was on January 11 that reports first alleged that Russia was on the brink of selling sophisticated missiles in the biggest arms deal ever between the two countries.

Russian and Israeli newspapers reported that Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister, held a confidential meeting addressing concerns surrounding the relationship between the two countries. They said Israel was particularly alarmed by Russia’s intention to sell Syria missiles with a range of 250 kilometres that could be used against Israel’s territories. Kommersant, a Moscownewspaper, said the Iskander E missile has a range that can cover most of Israel from Syria, including Dimona, where Israel’s nuclear reactor is. Another report, on Israel TV’s Channel Two, said that Russia had plans to sell Syria an arms package that included SDA-18 shoulder-firing missiles that could threaten Israeli aircraft flying over Syria and Lebanon to “curb attacks by Hizbullah guerrillas over her [Israel’s] northern border”.

But Israel has not been able to curb either Hizbullah’s attacks against its forces on Palestinian or Syrian territories, or indeed its attacks on targets inside Israel proper. Russia is in no mood to supply arms that could help Hizbullah, an organisation it brands as “terrorist”, and whose destruction it wants. When the UN Security Council passed resolution 1559 on September 2,Moscow could have vetoed it but did not. The resolution, sponsored by the US and France, called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and the disarmament of all militias. Syria was not mentioned, but it has 15,000 troops in Lebanon and the reference to militias plainly alludes to Hizbullah, which Damascus is said to support.

Russia has also not expressed any objection to the EU’s pressure on Syria to not acquire nuclear capabilities. The pressure is part of the Association Agreement, initialled by the EU andSyria on October 19, which, when ratified, will give Syria greater access to EU markets but which also includes controls on WMDs. The EU’s stance is not that strange, as it is party to the international conspiracy by the US, European countries and their allies (including the UN and its organisations) to deny all Muslim countries access to weapons technology. This will enable weapons manufacturers such as Russia, France and the US to continue to sell expensive but out-of-date and ineffective arms to Muslims, who, as a result of the lack of access to weapons technology, will remain dependent and under control indefinitely.

This arrangement suits both Russia and Israel, and their presumed quarrel over Moscow’s missile sales to Syria. Russia will have the advantage of appearing to arm a Muslim and Arab country, while filling its own coffers; Israel will find beneficial the publicity that Syria is acquiring nuclear capabilities. This will help it to create the impression that Syria is violating its obligations under the Association Agreement and Security Council resolution 1559. As a result Israel will also find it easier to scale down the benefits Syria would receive as a result of president Bashshar al-Asad’s planned state visit to Russia on January 24.

The Israeli media had no doubt that Russia would not sell sophisticated missiles to Syria and that, in any case, Washington would be in a position to stop Moscow in its tracks. Ha’aretz newspaper, for instance, reported on January 17 that it would be wrong to conclude from the statement of Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s defence minister, that Moscow and Damascus would not sign an arms deal during president Asad’s visit. But it would be an even greater mistake to exaggerate the threat posed to Israel by the proposed missile sales, and to try to stop those sales, the paper added. Ha’aretz even explained that Moscow needs to retrieve its global influence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and that the best way of doing that is to sell arms world wide. It concluded that the best course of action for Israel was to leave the matter to Washington, which could easily settle the issue with Moscow.

Israeli confidence in Washington’s readiness and ability to back its strategic requirements has always been complete. But its confidence in the EU, though not always firm, has been reinforced recently, particularly by the relentless pressure on Syria not to acquire nuclear capability. This is particularly comforting to Israel, given the EU’s determination to resume the supply of arms to China in defiance of the US. European leaders are heading for confrontation also with human rights organisations. The EU arms embargo on China was imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, but it will clearly be lifted soon. Amnesty International warned on January 11 that “meaningless” conditions will be imposed on Beijing because ofEurope’s determination to tap into China’s booming economy.

The EU, like the US and Russia, can tap into the Muslim world’s economies but ignore its strategic interests. We Muslims should expect nothing else from our enemies and detractors, but ask ourselves instead why we as an Ummah and a community are so indifferent to our own real this-worldly and next-worldly interests.

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