Monday, August 06, 2007

Russian Navy Returns to Syrian Ports


It is not for nothing that Russian President Putin sometimes wears a Russian naval hat, as in the photo at the left. Ynet, the online service of Yediot Acharonot, Israel's largest daily newspaper, reports:

For the first time since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia plans to re-operate the Tartus and Latakia ports in Syria as permanent bases for the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean basin, according to recent western media reports.

And its analysts are right on target regarding the significance for both the United States and Israel of this expansion of Russian Navy influence:

Another phase in Russian President Vladimir Putin's imperialistic aspirations is being realized. It was just a matter of time before the Russian navy returned to the Mediterranean and resumed permanent command over the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia, which it abandoned with the fall of the Soviet Union.

A Russian flag on Syrian soil has significant strategic implications. Firstly, it challenges the US and the dominance of the Sixth Fleet stationed in the Mediterranean. Secondly, with its actual presence in Syria, Russia is announcing that it is actively participating in any process and conflict in the Middle East, that it has a stance of its own, and that it must be reckoned with.

From Israel's point of view, we can expect a change in the rules of the game in the Mediterranean in general, and more specifically along the Syrian-Lebanon coasts: We haven't seen Soviet spy ships in the Mediterranean for quite some time. A permanent port in Syria would significantly facilitate its operations in our arena.

Under such circumstances, the Israeli navy's freedom of action would inevitably change – and we may assume that Israel would have a problem striking at land-based facilities during wartime. The large-scale Syrian-Russian arms deal also includes systems for protecting coasts and ports and land-to-sea missiles of the most advanced type.

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