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Russia's message to Israel

By Ariel Natan Pasko
web posted September 13, 2004

"The Russians are coming...The Russians are coming..." Well, that could have been the headlines in Israeli newspapers until a few days ago, before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov came to Israel. Now, after meeting with Israeli officials, the headlines could be, "Russian FM: Chechen Muslim terror evil, but justifies support for PLO Terror State and help for Iranian Nukes."

The day before the Russian Foreign Minister came to Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin, to express his shock at the seizure of the Russian school in Beslan. Sharon told Putin that, "We must concentrate political and intelligence efforts so as to destroy terror." The two agreed that cooperation in the security, intelligence, and humanitarian fields would continue. Putin in return, expressed his condolences for the recent bus bombings in Be'er Sheva, and said that the Russians value Israel's resolve in preventing terror attacks.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

"Israel, which has suffered from terrorism for decades, stands beside the Russian people," Sharon said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting. "The terrorist activities in Russia against innocent civilians prove anew that terror has no borders and a single goal: to destroy and sow ruin," Sharon continued, "Terror has no justification, and its time for the free, decent, humanistic world to unite and fight this terrible plague, which has no borders or fences."

An Israeli official close to Sharon said that Russia and Israel were natural allies in the battle against terror. Russia now has greater cause to listen to what Israel has to say, "They understand now that what they have is not a local terror problem but part of the global Islamic terror threat," the official said. "The Russians may listen to our suggestions this time. Russians now understand that there can be no distinction drawn between a good and a bad terrorist," he added. "One cannot on the one hand refuse to condemn the so-called liberation movements which have recourse to terrorism and only denounce the radical Islamic movements." Israeli officials quickly drew parallels between Moscow's conflict with Chechen rebels and their own battle against the Palestinians.

But when the Russian Foreign Minister later spoke in Israel about global terror, he differentiated between Palestinian terror against Israel, and Chechen terror against Russia.

That's right, while the Russian Foreign Minister spoke of the need for a global counter-terror alliance, he warned against seeing a similarity between the fight against international terror; drawing a line, saying, there is a clear difference between the Chechen conflict and what is between Israel and the Palestinians. Lavrov said the international community considers the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territory, but concerning Chechnya, the Russian Foreign Minister wondered aloud, "How can one be an occupier in his own country? Chechnya is part of Russia."

One could say the same for Israel vis-a-vis Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza. Czarist Russia conquered and occupied Chechnya in the 19th century, the Jewish people's homeland included Judea, Samaria, and Gaza for about 29 centuries longer.

Some statements Lavrov has made since taking office in March include criticizing Israel for its "tough moves taken by Israel in the Palestinian territories." He's stated that, "the occupation of Palestinian lands is damaging for Israel and does not build up its security." Yet, he claims that, "Russia's policy is neither pro-Arab nor pro-Israeli. It is directed at securing Russian national interests, which includes maintaining close and friendly ties both with the Arab countries and with Israel."

During a day of meetings, the Russian Foreign Minister heard Israel offer Russia a wide range of assistance, from medical aid for children suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, to sending medical teams to the area, to dispatching counter-terror advisers and upgrading intelligence cooperation. And while Israeli society was sympathizing with the Russian tragedy - for example during Lavrov's visit - the Knesset stood for a moment of silence in memory of those people murdered by Muslim terrorists in Russia and the recent bus bombing in Be'er Sheva, the Russian Foreign Minister was denying the connection. Gideon Sa'ar (chairman of the Likud Knesset faction) in requesting the commemoration said, "Our hearts go out to the Russian people, who are mourning children murdered in inhumane brutality. The mourning of the parents and families from Be'er Sheva is the same as the mourning of the parents and families from Beslan; and the struggle against international terrorism in all its
forms is also common to both peoples." It doesn't seem that Russia agrees.

Israel has several points of contention with Russia's foreign policy. The biggest, is Russia's sympathy for the Palestinians, it's downplaying of terror against Israel, and its support for a Palestinian State. Next is Russia's support for the Iranian nuclear program. Finally, there's Russia's relationship with Syria and its "blind-eye" policy toward Syria's vicious occupation of Lebanon.

In his whirlwind one-day visit to Israel, Lavrov met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, President Moshe Katzav, and the opposition leader, MK Shimon Peres (Labor). This followed Lavrov's visits to Egypt and Lebanon.

Prime Minister Sharon, meeting with Lavrov, reiterated Israel's deep empathy with Russia's plight. "We share the disaster that hit Russia, which fell victim to a horrible act of terror," he said. "We ourselves are victims of Arab Palestinian terror for over 100 years. We are familiar with the cruelty of Palestinian terror." Sharon continued, "The terror that hit Russia is the same that is hitting us here in Israel. We know that there can be no compromise with terror. We have to fight, overpower, and defeat terror."

Focusing on the international condemnation of Israel's security fence in his discussions with the Russian Foreign Minister, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters that he told Lavrov, Israel now expects Russia not to support the Palestinian's upcoming resolution at the United Nations against the security fence, which calls for sanctions against Israel. Russia voted against Israel on this issue when it was brought to the General Assembly in July. Shalom reminded the Russian Foreign Minister, that in the last 21 UN votes relating to Israel, Russia voted against Israel 17 times and abstained on four occasions, and that hasn't gone unnoticed in Israel. Shalom, at a joint press conference with Lavrov after their meeting, said that Israel is looking toward the Russian UN delegation "to oppose the ongoing Palestinian campaign against Israel and to reject their anti-Israeli initiatives, designed to hurt Israel and divert attention from their own obligations. It is clea
r that the solutions to the Palestinian issue lie in Ramallah and Gaza, not in New York or The Hague."

Speaking to opposition leader Shimon Peres, Lavrov said, "We appreciate the very strong readiness of the Israeli people to help Russia at this hour and this will certainly strengthen the counter-terrorist coalition these days." But he pointed out that any counter-terror alliance would have to include Arab countries, Russia's traditional allies in the region. When asked whether Russia planned to change its foreign policies regarding Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia in view of seeming Arab participation in the recent terrorist attack and in an earlier siege of a Moscow theater in 2002, Lavrov equivocated, "terrorists have neither borders nor nationalities."

About Iran

Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom told reporters he spoke with Lavrov about, "The urgent need to address the danger to the entire international community posed by Iran's nuclear program. The international pressure on Iran must be intensified dramatically if we are to prevent Iran's nuclear ambitions, and Russia, once again, has a key role to play in this effort." During their meeting, according to Israeli officials, Lavrov told Shalom that if Israel has specific information about Iran, they should bring it to Moscow's attention. Saying that Russia is "the last country interested in an Iran armed with nuclear weapons," Lavrov said, he feels that often Iran is "used as a slogan." "If you have leads," he said, "bring them to us." Lavrov said that Iran feels it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the type of campaign the US waged against Iraq. "The next time anyone wants to attack one of the countries in the axis of evil," he said, in a poke at the US, "they should first come with proof [of weapons of mass destruction]."

But the Russian Foreign Minister's response to the Iran issue was predictable. While the EU has expressed increased concern over Tehran's intent to resume uranium enrichment processes, Lavrov has preferred to rely on plausible denial. "The prospects and scale of our partnership with Iran are defined with regard to Tehran's fulfillment of its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency," Lavrov asserted. The Russian Foreign Minister claims that to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is limited to peaceful purposes, "we encourage Iran to resume a freeze on all activities connected with the enrichment of uranium." But, then he adds, "At the same time, Iran is our neighbor and traditional partner, with whom we maintain mutually beneficial ties." Many analysts argue that the nuclear-security cooperation with Iran signals Russia's attempt at an independent foreign policy from the US and the West, just as France's opposition to the war in Iraq did.

So while Muslim fanatics kill Russian schoolchildren, and regularly do suicidal genocide bombings against Israelis, the Russian Foreign Minister has drawn a distinction, and while Iran pursues advanced missile and nuclear technology, Russian companies continue to help them out, while denying that Iran is a serious threat.

Russia might not be concerned that Iranian missiles might be able to one day soon "fry" Russian cities, but Israel should take the recent threats very seriously. In the last few months, several top Iranian officials have warned that Iran would "wipe Israel off the map" if Israel attacks its nuclear facilities.

"Their threats to attack Iran's nuclear facilities cannot be realized. They are aware Tehran's reaction will be so harsh that Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth and US interests will be easily damaged," said Sayyid Mas'ud Jazairi, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in a statement to the Iranian News Agency. The Revolutionary Guard is a military organization that operates in parallel to the Iranian army. "If Israel fires a missile into the Bushehr nuclear power plant, it has to say goodbye forever to its Dimona nuclear facility, where it produces and stockpiles nuclear weapons," deputy chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Brig.-Gen. Muhammed Baqer Zolqadr said recently. In a separate statement, Yadollah Javani, head of the Revolutionary Guards' political bureau, threatened that Iran would use its Shahab-3 missile, which he said could reach "all the territory under the control of the Zionist regime, including its nuclear facilities."

Then there's the Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, who said in an interview with the pan-Arab al-Jazeera television network recently, that Iran would "not sit with our arms folded to wait for what others will do to us." Some Iranian military commanders, Shamkhani said, believe that "preventive operations" are not the monopoly of Americans. Shamkhani, also warned that should Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities, his country would "wipe out" Israel. Imagine, the Iranian Defense Minister has suggested a "first strike" on Israel might be carried out.

In response, Israeli Chief of Staff, General Moshe Ya'alon, said Iran's nuclear development had to be halted before it went much further. He said, "Iran is striving for nuclear capability and I suggest that in this matter [Israel should] not rely on others."

Currently, Iran's Shahab-3 missile has a range of about 800 miles (about 1,300 kilometers) and can reach as far as Turkey, Israel, the Gulf oil states, and most Saudi Arabian cities. But the Iranians are also believed to be working on longer-range Shahab-4 and Shahab-5 missiles. Those missiles are said to have a range of 2,400 to 3,000 kilometers and 5,500 to 6,000 kilometers, respectively, and could threaten every European capital, Russia, and even India.

The Shahab 3
The Shahab 3

In contrast to General Ya'alon, Guy Bechor, Middle East Affairs analyst from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, said he believes that Israel should "keep a low profile against escalation" because despite Iranian rhetoric, Israel is not the only country being threatened. The Shahab-3 missiles threaten not only Israel but also the surrounding Gulf States, which are oil-producing nations, said Bechor. Iran is also developing the Shahab-4 with a range that could strike Western Europe (Some analysts say it could even reach the eastern seaboard of the US), why would Iran have to develop this longer-range missile if it only intended to attack Israel, he asked. "Iran is building itself as a superpower, not against Israel but against the Western [world]," Bechor answered.

So, why is Russia still helping Iran exactly? And why is Israel helping Russia?

Syria and its occupation of Lebanon

While nine countries recently supported UN Security Council Resolution 1559, sponsored by the United States and France, Russia, along with five other countries abstained. The resolution's purpose was to pressure Lebanon to reject a proposed change to its constitution, allowing a second term for its pro-Syrian puppet president and called for an immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces - a veiled reference to Syrian occupation troops - from Lebanon. Lavrov explained after the vote, "Russia's position stems from its respect for the sovereignty of all the countries of the region and for each one of these countries to live in peace and security with its neighbors."

After meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, Israeli President Moshe Katzav noted that Lavrov was leaving that evening for Damascus. He reminded Lavrov of Syria's support for Hezbollah and called attention to the need to honor the UN resolutions that call on the Lebanese government to assert its sovereignty, but the Russian Foreign Minister was non-committal.

It seems that the Russians aren't troubled by the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, though they are, by Israel's so-called "occupation" of parts of its historic homeland. Nor, do the Russians seem to include Hezbollah's activities, within their definition of global terror activities, although there is conclusive evidence for Hezbollah's involvement in terror against Israel, originating from Gaza. What about Hezbollah's involvement in the 1994 terror attack in Argentina, against a Jewish target, that killed 85 people and injured over 300? And then there are even claims that Hezbollah has operated in Iraq, against American troops.

Israel shouldn't let the Russians off the hook on this one either

The day after Lavrov visited Israel, a huge rally of about 130,000 people in Moscow, protested the Beslan murders. Demonstrators held signs saying, "We won't give Russia to terrorists" and "The enemy will be crushed; victory will be ours" and then observed a moment of silence. Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected any dialogue with the Chechen separatists. Putin denied that his government would overhaul its policy on Chechnya because of the recent wave of attacks. The world should have "no more questions about our policy in Chechnya" after the attackers shot children in the back, he said. Chechen terror was aimed at fomenting conflict in the volatile south Russian region and breaking up the country, he claimed, "This is all about Russia's territorial integrity."

It seems the Russians understand how to protect their own "homeland" and tie it into the global war on terror, pity that they don't give Israel the same slack vis-a-vis the so-called Palestinians.

But worse, is the way Israeli leaders grovel to people, the likes of Lavrov. Israeli leaders have to be honest about seeing the two-faced self-interest of the Russians, for what it is...self-interest. Sharon and company might just learn a valuable lesson from this episode, about "territorial integrity" and resisting those who would "break up the country".

The Jews of Israel await leadership that expresses it's own national self-interest...thank you Russia for the lesson.

Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko (c) 2004/5764 Pasko

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