Flaunting decades of prohibition by the United States, Russia has swept into the Middle East. In a matter of weeks, it has established a daunting military presence in Syria. That presence includes some 1,500 troops along with artillery, tanks and fighter jets. According to intelligence news service, DEBKA, Russia's presence also includes the arrival of the world's largest nuclear submarine, Russia's Tycoon-class Dmitri Donskoy.
The reason? According to Moscow, it is there to reinforce the blood-soaked regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Why? Ostensibly because of ISIS, also known as Islamic State. The Islamist terrorist organization, infamous for public beheadings broadcast by social media, has raised alarms throughout the world. Interestingly, then, Russia has come to Syria for the same stated reason as the United States, Iran, and Hezbollah. Like all the rest, it says it is there to defeat ISIS.
Undoubtedly, the demise of ISIS is one reason why Russia is establishing a military presence. But it is unlikely the only reason.
Based on its pattern of success in selling arms to Iran, Egypt and Israel, Moscow's communist state is capitalizing on a booming market opportunity. As all semblance of regional stability dissipates, everyone on every side wants weapons and training. Russia has both and is ready to sell them—to everyone on every side. Iran is getting state of the art missiles and MiGs while its sworn enemy, Saudi Arabia, is in the market for Russian defense systems. Hezbollah and Hamas are welcomed in Moscow while everyone else, it seems, is also coming to visit; dignitaries from Egypt to Turkey and eastward to Qatar.
But conventional arms are not the only thing that Russia has to sell. An even hotter item is nuclear power. Just like Iran, Saudi Arabia wants nuclear power plants. So do Egypt, Turkey and pretty much every other state in the roiling Middle East.
What are the dynamics driving the Middle East and Russia into each other's arms? In short, money, fear and a vacuum of the United States' international leadership.
Sanctions relief from the pending nuclear agreement with Iran is about to infuse more than 100 billion dollars of cash into the Islamic Republic and its well-known proxies: Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. All of them are about to get a lot of money for more murder and mayhem. Russia sees the cash and is eager to take it. In exchange, it provides weapons and military support. Moscow's support is beginning with Assad because of Tehran's pledge to protect him. Hence, Moscow is in Syria today in order to protect its relationship with Iran. For Russia, the reborn Persian Empire is a goose that is laying golden eggs.
Other Middle East states, alarmed by Iran's nuclear ambitions and aspirations for regional hegemony, are rushing to Russia for development of their own nuclear programs. So long as they have money, Russia is ready to sell.
The final factor that makes the Middle East an irresistible market is that, in effect, the United States is gone. In the wake of its leadership in negotiating the pending nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States has relinquished all sense of meaningful control over forces that seek to disrupt regional stability.
What does this mean for Israel?
From Russia's perspective, it would like nothing more than all the Middle East to become like Israel. The Jewish state has one of the largest Russian speaking populations in the world. Russian tourism has become the backbone of the Israeli tour industry. Moscow loves Israeli technology, purchasing its radar systems and drones. What's more, Russia's capital city is home to the largest expatriate community of Israelis in the world, some 80,000 as of 2014.
It is not the Jewishness of Israel that Russia would like to duplicate with enemies of the Jewish state; it is the business and cultural imprint that it would like to reproduce. For its part, Israel carries on business with the Bear from the North but does so with keen awareness that Russia is, in fact, a hungry carnivore that has awakened from hibernation. And has now moved in next door.
Source: (Bridges for Peace, 16 September 2015)
Photo Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office