- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2005

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a historic visit to Israel this week, but the trip served as a reminder of Russia’s continuing ties to Iran and Syria, and Moscow’s determination to go forward with military-related deals that would make those rogue regimes more dangerous. The most troubling news about Mr. Putin’s trip to Israel was his unwillingness to yield on strengthening military ties with Syria and Moscow’s ongoing support for Iran’s nuclear-weapons infrastructure.

In an interview last week with Israel’s Channel One television, Mr. Putin effectively dismissed Washington and Jerusalem’s concerns about Iran’s military buildup by suggesting that efforts to put restraints on Tehran would not be helpful. The Russian leader also rejected Israel’s concerns, which have strong bipartisan backing in Washington, about Moscow’s sales to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime — which is working to destroy Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations by supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.

Asked during the same interview about the sale of SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, Mr. Putin defended the sale on grounds that they would make it more difficult for Israeli planes to buzz Mr. Assad’s palace — a form of psychological warfare used to deter the Syrian dictator by reminding him of Israel’s superiority in the skies. Israel is also concerned about the likelihood that Syria would transfer those missiles to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Mr. Putin claims that the missiles will be under Russian supervision and that they will not fall into Hezbollah’s hands. But given the Russian military’s ties with Syria, which go back decades, and Mr. Putin’s increasingly autocratic behavior and dismissal of Washington’s concerns about his behavior toward his neighbors, there is good reason for skepticism on this point. Mr. Putin defended the sale again in an interview which appeared yesterday in the Jerusalem Post. Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel have written Mr. Putin protesting the sales and accusing him of endangering the lives of 20,000 Russian residents in Israel who hold joint citizenship.

Another proposal put forward by Mr. Putin — to provide troop carriers to the Palestinian Authority security forces — has received a decidedly cool reception in Israel thus far. That is quite understandable given the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has barely begun to take meaningful steps to rein in the terrorist groups and gangs that operate in PA-controlled areas of Gaza and the West Bank. Given the current situation on the ground, there is ample reason for concern that such troop carriers would fall into the wrong hands.

The very fact that Russia’s leader has visited Israel is an important and positive development. But Mr. Putin does himself no favors by recklessly pushing ahead with destabilizing arms sales to rogue states and other irredentists.

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