Sludge Report #86 – Levantine Superpower Games
In This Edition: Russian-Syrian $1billion Arms Deal Realigns Middle East Balance - It’s Our Peace And We’ll Screw It Up If We Want To
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Sludge Report #86
Russian-Syrian $1billion Arms Deal Realigns Middle East Balance
You might be forgiven for thinking that the world's superpowers have been taking a mature approach of late to resolving the ancient antagonisms of the Holy Land. Think again.
C.D. Sludge has learned from Middle East sources that Russia has agreed to substantially modernise the Syrian army as part of a major arms transaction worth more than US $1 billion (NZD $2.4 billion).
The deal, which sources say was signed on May 24th, is extensive and includes not only upgrades of obsolete hardware bought from the USSR in the 80's and early 90's, but items that could alter the military-strategic balance of strength in the Middle East.
One is the highly effective Russian S-300 air defence system (missiles), another is the acquisition of 5 MiG-25RE high altitude intelligence-gathering aircraft with which the Syrians could carry out airborne reconnaissance over Israel and further afield with almost total impunity.
The deal also covers the repair and upgrading of 4,000 tanks including the T-72's, all of Syrians BMP-1 Armoured Personnel Carriers, and its entire fleet of 500 fighters and bomber aircraft - mainly the Mig 21's, MiG 23's and Mig 29's.
Sludge has also learned that the Russians are about to go back to training hundreds of Syrian officers as they did during the Soviet era.
Syria is said to have offered payment for its purchases and weapons renovations over a period of years.
Nevertheless, the arms transaction goes a long way towards helping Russian president Vladimir Putin reach his targeted US$4 billion worth of arms sales this year - to whom-ever.
Strategic analysts interpret the arms deal as a move by the Russian president to tilt his Middle East support towards a Damascus-Baghdad alliance.
Moscow is also said to be selling advanced weaponry to the Iraqi army as well as advanced oil drilling and pumping systems. Russian oil engineers have joined the Iraqi-Syrian teams working on the oil pipeline between the two countries and the Mediterranean and Russian banks are negotiating the terms of a US$145 million loan.
It’s Our Peace And We’ll Screw It Up If We Want To
Meanwhile, the three-way security meeting between the Palestinians, Israelis and U.S. CIA director, George Tenet, is seemingly winding up a failed mission.
During his stay the always unlikely peace envoy Tenet is said to have told Swedish Prime Minister, Gioran Persson (acting Chairman of the EU), and the executive director of EU external affairs, Javier Solana, who are both in the Middle East, to butt out. That is, Tenet is said to have told them both that Washington objects to their interference.
Also called off recently have been EU preparations to establish an observers office in Bethlehem.
Given the possessive approach seemingly being taken to the peace process by the new US administration, Sludge would dearly like to be a fly on the wall when US President Bush meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday in Slovenia.
Meanwhile Israel has been taking almost daily advice from the U.S. about its Palestinian policies, with the "pace yourself" advice now looking increasingly thin.
All hell may well break out as Tenet leaves. Thousands have been heckling Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon at the funeral of 5 month-old Yehuda Haim Shoham the infant who died on Monday of wounds caused by a rock thrown at his parent's car. The hecklers called for an end to the Israeli policy of restraint.
And so Tenet is leaving, President Bush and Colin Powell have their minds elsewhere at the US-EU summit in Sweden, and the Europeans, as previously mentioned have been told to back off.
All this back-biting among the allegedly peaceable Western Powers could well turn out to be an encouragement to Palestinian extremists to redouble terror attacks through cellphone bomb detonation, bus blasts, booby-trapped cars, and shopping mall explosions.
The next 4 days will tell, but let's all hope that common sense prevails and the dogs of war are put back on their leashes.
If any incentive is needed, the parties to this conflict need look no further than the hitherto secret arms deals taking place in neighbouring nations, for a hint of what the future may hold if a lasting peace is not achieved, and soon.