PROVOKING FEAR OF A NEW COLD WAR

It is hard to know what in this piece is designed to drive a wedge in the new Israeli/Syrian dialogue and what spells real trouble in terms of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between the United States and Russia. We may be seeing the undermining of the real possibility of peace between Syria and Israel. There is a march of folly, from Georgia’s move on South Ossetia, to Russia’s naked aggression, to the successful neo-conservative strategy of alienating everyone and anyone for eight years, including Russia (Did Poland really need an ABM defense right now? Is that what is going to make them safer?). It seems that reactionary forces in the United States may get their wish for a world in conflict that will push frightened American voters–and Israeli voters–in their direction once again. It is true that Russia has been headed in an anti-democratic direction for a long time, but there are interactive systems here, and one could imagine a world in which the United States had never destroyed Iraq, and where Russia could never feel justified on the world stage as doing the same to Georgia. But now we have a United States that prodded Israel to confront Syria, and now a Syria being prodded to put Russia missiles a few miles from Tel Aviv in order for Moscow to make a point to Washington. What a waste of an opportunity for positive change. And a fine gift before Bush leaves office.

The Times of London reports:

Syria raised the prospect yesterday of having Russian missiles on its soil, sparking fears of a new Cold War in the Middle East. President Assad said as he arrived in Moscow to clinch a series of military agreements: “We are ready to co-operate with Russia in any project that can strengthen its security.”

The Syrian leader told Russian newspapers: “I think Russia really has to think of the response it will make when it finds itself closed in a circle.”

Mr Assad said that he would be discussing the deployment of Russian missiles on his territory. The Syrians are also interested in buying Russian weapons.

In return Moscow is expected to propose a revival of its Cold War era naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, which would give the Russian Navy its first foothold in the Mediterranean for two decades. Damascus and Moscow were close allies during the Cold War but the Kremlin’s influence in the region waned after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yesterday’s rapprochement raised the possibility that Moscow intends to re-create a global anti-Western alliance with former Soviet bloc allies.

Many in Israel fear that the Middle East could once again become a theatre for the two great powers to exert their spheres of influence, militarily and politically. And with Israel and the US providing military backing to Georgia, Russia appears set to respond in kind by supporting Syria.

© Marc Gopin

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