Israel in talks to stop Syria missile plan
Top-level Israeli intelligence personnel went to Moscow this week to try to talk the Kremlin out of supplying sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, which, once installed in Syria, would have the range and power to target civilian and military aircraft over Tel Aviv.
Israeli diplomats will continue to work both privately and publicly to prevent the transfer until the shipment sails, but officials attempted to lower the diplomatic temperature, insisting Israel had no intention of fighting Russia on the issue.
Israel has read Moscow's insistence on pursuing its deal to supply Damascus with the powerful missile systems as part of a "Cold War" power struggle between the United States and Russia playing out in the theatre of the Syrian civil war in which Israel wants no part.
"We are unhappy with the prospect of these very serious weapons arriving in Syria, but we cannot stop Russia delivering them to the Middle East. We would not strike a Russian target – our egos are big, but they're not that big," one senior Israeli diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military will not hesitate, however, to take any steps necessary to prevent the transfer of this sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft technology to Hezbollah militants or other hostile groups.
"I don't know how upset the Russians would be if, at some point between payment and the installation of this technology in Damascus by Russian experts, something was done to damage the weaponry. As long as no Russians were hurt and they got paid, I don't think they would care," the diplomat added.
Despite the warning from Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon that Israel "would know what to do" should the delivery of missiles go ahead, further Israeli military intervention in Syria should not be interpreted as a harbinger of regional war.
The current Israeli military intelligence is that neither Hezbollah nor the Syrian regime is prepared to take on Israel in open conflict.
Any reciprocal attacks to future Israeli strikes are likely to be carried out on Israeli targets abroad or, possibly, in further cross-border fire in the Golan.
Israel's major concern is not that the Assad regime will use its sophisticated Russian- and Iranian-supplied weaponry against Israel – a move described by Israeli officials as "suicide" – but where the arms will end up if and when the regime falls.
In Jerusalem this week, Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of strategic affairs and intelligence, warned that the Russian missiles could be fed through Damascus back to Assad's allies in Iran, "and by these means bypass the arms embargo on Iran".
"We don't want to get involved in the [Syrian] war, but we will defend ourselves as we always did," he said.
The dramatic events of the past week, which has seen Europe prepare to arm Syrian rebels and Russia continue to prop up the regime, may actually have served Israel's interests by prolonging the civil war and dragging out the Syrian conflict until a legitimate, Western-friendly leadership emerges from the opposition.
"Israel, along with most global players outside of Iran, is quite content to see this civil war continue for a little while longer because there is no palatable alternative that is ready," an Israeli official said. – © Guardian News & Media 2013