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The Lekarev Report, Israel News August 21, 2008

20 Av 5768
August 21, 2008
Assad: Russia Must Cut Ties with the West

assad.jpgSyrian President Bashar Assad is eager to see an even bigger wedge driven between Russia and the West over the conflict in Georgia, according to a report in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat today.  Assad has apparently expressed his opinion that Moscow needs to stop all cooperation with NATO countries.

He's a bit late for Russia already informed Oslo yesterday that it does indeed plan to cut all military ties with NATO, the Norwegian Defense Ministry said.  Norway's embassy in Moscow had received a telephone call from "a well-placed official in the Russian Ministry of Defense" who said Moscow planned "to freeze all military cooperation with NATO and allied countries," said State Secretary Espen Barth Eide of the Norwegian ministry.

The Syrian president granted a number of interviews on the eve of his visit to the Russian capital and is quoted as saying that Israeli arms sales to the Georgian army should prompt the Kremlin to strengthen the military alliance between Russia and Syria.
Assad, who arrived at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday evening accompanied by his foreign affairs minister, Walid Muallem, will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Before leaving for Moscow, Assad told the Russian daily 'Kommersant' that his talks would focus on Syria's defense ties with Moscow, adding that he believed it crucial to accelerate the rate of weapons purchases. "Moreover, the West and Israel continue to put pressure on Russia," he said.

He is expected to use the US-Poland agreement as part of his argument to strengthen Syria-Russian defense connections.
medvedev4.jpgRussian President Calls Olmert

Amidst heightened tensions between Israel and Russia,  President Dmitry Medvedev called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last night, reportedly to affirm the ties between the two countries.

According to Olmert's office the two leaders talked about regional and bilateral issues and looked to advance relations between their nations.

The conversation occurred after Syrian President Bashar Assad's arrival for a  two-day visit during which he is seeking to purchase weapons, including long-range anti-aircraft missiles.  Assad has reportedly offered to allow Moscow to deploy Russian Iskander missiles in its territory. The Iskander (known by NATO as the SS-26 Stone) is a short-range, solid fuel-propelled missile system.

As of this morning, Russia has reportedly not taken him up on the offer, which was publicized yesterday, the same day the United States signed an agreement with Poland to place a defensive missile system on Polish soil.

For its part, Poland has expressed serious concern at Russia's threat to employ "more than diplomatic options" if the missile system is actually positioned in Poland.  Seeing what has just happened to Georgia has made the Poles more than a bit nervous.

steinitz2.jpg'Freeze Any Interaction with Syria'

Likud Knesset member, Yuval Steinitz told Israeli Radio today that "A scenario in which S-300 or Iskander type missiles reach Syria is a dangerous scenario," and that Israel must immediately cut off any ties whatsoever with its neighbor.

Steinitz was commenting on reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad offered to host batteries of the Russian short-range Iskander, as a response to the United States' signing an agreement with Poland to place a missile defense system on its soil, a move that Russia strongly opposes.

"We have brought Syria to this situation," Steinitz said, referring to the renewed standing of Syria on the international scene since the announcement several months ago by both Jerusalem and Damascus that Israel and Syria would resume peace talks.

"We must freeze talks with Syria until it stops calling on Moscow to arm Israel's enemies, and until [Damascus itself] stops transferring arms to Hizbullah.

Is anybody in the right place listening???
admiral_kuznetsov.jpgRussian Ships Head for Syrian Port

While America awaits Moscow's threatened reprisal for its treaty with Poland signed in Warsaw Wednesday, the Kremlin is striking back in the Middle East - just in case you thought that Russian president Dimitry Medvedev's honeyed words of reassurance in his phone call to Israeli prime minister Olmert are to be trusted.

A powerful Russian naval contingent, led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (photo), left Murmansk on the Barents Sea Aug. 18 and is scheduled to dock at the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus this Shabbat, Aug. 23.  It includes the Russian Navy's biggest missile cruiser Moskva and at least four nuclear missile submarines.majormissile.jpg

Before the Russian flotilla departed Murmansk, Syrian President Assad is reported to have approved a plan for the Tartus port's conversion into a permanent Middle East base for Russia's nuclear-armed warships.

As reported above, Assad is looking for closer military cooperation with Russia. The deal emerging from his visit is expected to cover the Russian Navy's use of Tartus in return for a mutual defense accord providing Syria with a Russian nuclear umbrella and generous terms for his arms purchases.

merkel.jpgMerkel's Curious Silence

With Russia asserting its strength, Germany stands on the front lines of whatever Moscow has planned. Germany is vulnerable to Russia on many fronts. It has a very deep memory of what it feels like to have the Russians easily march across the northern European plain to German territory, which led to the Soviet occupation of half the country for forty long years.  Germany and Russia are also currently each other's largest trading partners, and Russia provides more than 60 percent of Germany's natural gas.

So it is to be expected that Berlin is now reassessing its allegiances to Washington and NATO, and whether it needs to act independently to create its own security guarantee with Russia - something that would rip NATO apart. Berlin is not under the pressure to make an immediate decision but the new reality means it must start considering its options and the consequences.

Rumors are floating around Moscow that a discussion between the Kremlin and Berlin on this very topic is already underway, though Berlin will go to great lengths to keep it under wraps. 

On Aug. 15, as the war between Georgia and Russia wound down, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Sochi. (photo above)

If you stop and think about it, Germany has acted rather peculiarly during the entire Georgian-Russian conflict. When the war began, Berlin issued a vague statement on "needing to find a solution" between the two states but as the war escalated, Chancellor Angela Merkel was silent - very silent. 

Others within the German government released statements in favor of either Russia or Georgia, but it is, after all, Merkel who calls the shots in the country - and she was waiting for her meeting with Medvedev before saying a word.

Merkel, the first German Chancellor to have been born in East Germany, is quite critical and firm against the Russians, but at the same time, she's in a difficult position.  She understands how vulnerable her country is right now. Germany may be an economic powerhouse, but it is still militarily weak, so its security is a top priority in her own mind.

Sources in Moscow say that Medvedev offered Merkel a security pact for their two countries but no details have been made public. However, it would make sense for Russia to propose such a pact since Moscow knows that, of all the European countries, Germany is the one to pursue.

Why? For starters, like Russia, Germany is wary of Washington's strengthening presence in Europe which Germany perceives as undercutting its dominance on the European continent.  It is no secret that Berlin wants to balance the U.S. presence in Europe.

Secondly, there is a historical precedent for Russia and Germany to form an alliance.  Against prevailing public opinion in the 1930's,  Germany and Russia signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the treaty of nonaggression between Germany and the Soviet Union).  This was not the first Russo-German treaty, but actually the third (after the League of the Three Emperors in 1872 and the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922), confirming the two countries' tradition of turning to each other when both are not at war or occupied.

Since Germany and Russia are the two big powers on the block and want to limit the influence of any other power (like the United States) from their region, it would make sense for Berlin and Moscow to forge an agreement similar to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had secret protocol dividing the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into either the Nazi or Soviet spheres of influence.   Most of those countries have since sided with Washington, but if Germany and Russia make some sort of deal, it will be open season on American influence in Europe.

Don't expect a quick flip against the West coming out of Berlin. The point is, however, that Germany is not the solid rock of NATO and the European Union that the West assumes it is.  Russia's recent actions mean that history is catching up with the Germans and that a choice is inevitably on the way.

Everything depends on Berlin's choice between maintaining its dependence on the United States or flipping the entire balance structure in Europe by striking a deal with Russia.  Berlin has been itching to reassert itself as a real and unbound power on the continent once again. However, though it has new economic and political strength, Germany is in many ways more vulnerable than it has been in more than 60 years.

Berlin's choice will shape the future of Europe and possibly the world - and without a doubt, will have a significant impact on Israel as well as the United States.

Travel Warning Issued to Israelis

New intelligence on Hezbollah's intentions to abduct Israelis abroad prompted the government's counterterrorist unit this week to issue a special warning to travelers, who were advised to take unusual precautions.

In its warning Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office Counterterrorism Bureau explained that intelligence reports suggested Hezbollah is planning kidnappings as its revenge for the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, its operations chief, who was killed in a Damascus car bombing in February. Israel has denied any involvement in the bombing. But the Sunday Times in London quoted "informed Israeli sources" that the Mossad spy agency carried out the car bombing that killed Mughniyeh.

Hezbollah has vowed to avenge Mughniyeh's death by attacking Israel or Israelis abroad. The travel advisory was a general warning, applicable to the entire world, not any specific travel destinations. According to people within the intelligence community, Israel does possess specific information regarding the location where Hezbollah plans to attack. But the Counterterrorism Bureau's warning says it applies to all countries.

birthdayboy.jpg85 and Going Strong - Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Israeli's president, Shimon Peres, is spending his 85th birthday in southern Israel today, an area whose development has been a keen interest of his for some time.

A statement from Peres' office said he would mark the day with a visit to the Negev town of Dimona, home to Israel's main nuclear reactor but blighted by high blue-collar unemployment.

Among the events scheduled in a program lasting around 10 hours in searing summer heat, the energetic octogenarian will be serenaded by a choir from the 900-strong Black Hebrew community, a group of vegan African Americans originally from Chicago, who believe they are a lost tribe of Israel.  He will hear a performance from a woodwind orchestra and be greeted by children from local summer camps and by the town rabbi. He will also give radio and TV interviews to local media students and visit leaders of a Beduin tribe in a tent set up in the town center.

Aides say that despite his years, Peres is a powerhouse, rising before dawn every day and working into the night.  "I wish the team around him had the strength to keep working at our boss's pace," an unidentified staffer told Army Radio.

Born in Poland on Aug. 21, 1923, Peres immigrated to Israel in 1934. A protege of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, he became director of the Defense Ministry at the age of 25 and spearheaded the development of Israel's nuclear program.

Peres was elected to parliament on the Labor Party ticket in 1959 and held a succession of Israel's most senior posts, including the premiership and the defense, finance and foreign affairs portfolios before being elected last year for a seven-year term in the nonpartisan, largely ceremonial office of president.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Shalom and blessings,

Hashem, Your way is in holiness; who is a great god like our G-d? You are the G-d who does wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
You have redeemed Your people with Your own arm, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

Psalm 77:13-15
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