By Richard Walker
The presence of Russian Special Forces and military advisors in Syria is a further sign Moscow is drawing a line in the sand in the Middle East to let Israel, the United States and others in the West know it will not permit the overthrow of another government there.
Units of Russia’s special forces, Spetsnaz, left Sevastopol on Dec. 4, 2011, onboard the Black Sea fleet patrol ship Ladny, which linked up with the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and other vessels weeks later in the Mediterranean. On Jan. 8, 2012, they sailed into the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia has a large naval facility. It was there that a U.S. spy satellite reportedly caught Spetsnaz military advisors and weapons being unloaded into Syria.
The Russian move should not have come as a surprise to Tel Aviv or Washington. Sooner or later, Russia was going to put its foot down after it became apparent Israel was close to dragging the U.S. into a war with Iran and had Washington’s backing for covert strategies to overthrow the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad. For some time, Israel and its backers on Capitol Hill have failed to recognize Russia has a strategic interest in the region and is never going to permit a reshaping of the map of the Middle East to suit Israel and the United States.
There are big issues at stake that the hawks in Tel Aviv and Washington ignore at their peril. Beginning with Iran, Russia sees it as a major energy source and a doorway to the Caucasus and the Caspian Basin. The Iranians fear if that doorway were to be closed by the creation of a pro-Zionist regime in Iran, Russia and China’s energy pathways would be in jeopardy.
To reinforce that point, on Jan. 12, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, warned an attack on Iran would threaten Russia’s national security. A similar view was expressed in the past by Vladimir Putin, who was recently elected for the third time as Russian president and will take office on May 7, 2012.
The road from Teheran, in Russia’s view, also leads to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Russian leaders see a direct correlation between the determination of Israel and the West to change regimes in Iran and Syria as part of a plan to take control of the region and its energy resources, giving them power to redirect energy flows to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. That prospect scares China even more than Russia.
Often missing from an analysis of Russian support for Syria is the realization by Moscow that Syria can be a major energy hub. That view is supported by the building of pipelines into Syria from Iraq and Egypt.
The greatest fear among Western oil giants is the prospect of Russia, with the support of Turkey, Iran, Syria, Greece, Iran and Iraq, creating an energy network incorporating the Mediterranean Sea, Caspian Sea, Black Sea and Persian Gulf. That could be prevented by Washington and Tel Aviv overthrowing the regimes in Iran and Syria and replacing them with pro-Zion governments. That would allow the West to cut off China’s energy/oil supplies and recalibrate energy/oil flow away from the Caucasus, limiting Russia’s energy/oil supply.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.