Negative diplomatic ricochets are pursuing Israel in the aftermath of its air force attacks on Syria. In the first place, they are seen to have had no effect on Hizballah’s successful military intervention on the side of the Assad regime or the Syrian war at large. In the second, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while in Shanghai, was given a sharp dressing-down by President Vladimir Putin Monday, May 6, a warning that Russia would not tolerate further Israeli attacks on Damascus and would respond.
Putin did not say how, but he did announce he had ordered the acceleration of highly advanced Russian weapons supplies to Syria.
DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose that the Russian leader was referring to S-300 anti-air systems and the nuclear-capable 9K720 Iskander (NATO named SS-26 Stone) surface missiles, which are precise enough to hit a target within a 5-7 meter radius at a distance of 280 kilometers.
In his phone call to Netanyahu, the Russian leader made no bones about his determination not to permit the US, Israel or any other regional force (e.g. Turkey and Qatar) overthrow President Bashar Assad. He advised the prime minister to make sure to keep this in mind.
Our sources add: Since Syrian air defense teams have already trained in Russia on the handling of the S-300 interceptor batteries, they can go into service as soon as they are landed by one of Russia’s daily airlifts to Syria. Russian air defense officials will supervise their deployment and prepare them for operation.
Moscow is retaliating not just for Israel’s air operations against Syria but in anticipation of the Obama administration’s impending decision to send the first US arms shipments to the Syrian rebels.
Intelligence agencies in Moscow and the Middle East take it for granted that by the time Washington goes public on this decision, some of the Syrian rebel factions will already be armed with American weapons.
That the measure was in the works was signified by the introduction Monday by Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of legislation allowing the US to provide arms and military training to the Syrian rebels,
US military instructors have been working with Syrian rebels at training camps in Jordan and Turkey for some months. So putting the arms in their hands only awaited a decision in Washington.
Putin’s message to Netanyahu was intended to reach a wider audience than Jerusalem, such as Barack Obama in Washington and President Xi Jinping in Beijing ahead of Netanyahu’s talks there Tuesday.
Therefore, when US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Moscow that day, in an attempt “bridge the divide” between their governments on the Syria conflict, he was preceded by a barrage of Russian condemnation of the Israeli air strikes in Damascus “as a threat to regional stability,” a stiff warning from the Russian foreign ministry to the “West” to stop “politicizing the issue of chemical weapons in Syria,” and Moscow’s “concern that world public opinion was being prepared for possible foreign military intervention.”
In other words, the Russian leader rejected in advance and with both hands any attempt by the US to use the Israeli air strikes as leverage for a deal with Moscow for ending the Syrian war. US weapons supplies to the rebels would furthermore be matched by stepped-up arms supplies to the Assad regime, which Putin is totally committed to preserving.
Kerry planned back-to-back meetings Tuesday with Russian officials focusing mainly on Syria but also covering the Russian angle on the Boston bombings, and hoped-for cooperation on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues.
The Chinese government’s cold shoulder to Israel was exhibited less directly that Moscow’s but no less firmly. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was invited to visit Beijing and meet President Xi two days before the prime arrived in the Chinese capital Tuesday to begin the official part of his visit. The Chinese president unveiled his peace plan before meeting the Israeli prime minister.
This plan emphasizes, as the key to a settlement, the Palestinian right to a state on the basis of 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital. It also adopts Abbas’s preconditions for talks, including a stop to settlement activities, an end of the Gaza blockade and “proper handling” of the Palestinian prisoners issue.
Clearly, Prime Minister Netanyahu would have been wiser to postpone his Chinese visit instead of taking off while Israeli air force blasts will still reverberating in Damascus. By staying at home, he would have displayed a firmer and steadier hand at the helm.
And after taking off, he would have done well not to linger for two days in Shanghai first. This gave the Russian leader the chance to catch him wrong-footed and administer a strong, publicized rebuke, so bearing down on the agenda of Netanyahu’s forthcoming talks with Chinese leaders.