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Hey, Guys, Let's Play the Global Fray!
September 23, 2010 13:49

Legal international arms trade became so familiar over the past few decades that one doesn't even notice any more how sinister the game is.

The Middle East arms race accelerated over the weekend, when Russia announced a missile deal with Syria. A top-ranking Russian officials confirmed their nation's intention to go ahead with the sale of some particularly lethal cruise missiles to Syria.

"Israel, not-so-surprisingly, is not-so-happy", Mohammad Sagha says on the pages of the Foreign Policy magazine. The supersonic Russian Yakhont missiles have a range of 138 miles, according to the BBC, and could target Israeli warships in the Mediterranean.

The missiles are designed to combat naval surface-ship groupings and single ships under heavy fire and electronic counteraction. They have the capacity to carry a 200-kilogram warhead and the unique ability of being able to cruise several meters above the water surface, making it difficult to detect and intercept. They can be launched from ships, submarines, ground launchers, and planes.

 Russia previously sold sophisticated, supersonic Kornet AT-14 anti-tank missiles to Syria that were then supplied to Hezbollah. The weapons were used to destroy and damage a number of Merkava 3 main battle tanks and blunt the Israeli armored attack into Southern Lebanon in 2006.

The new Yakhont missiles will not go to Hezbollah in the near term, according to U.S.-based analysts, who are sure that the publicity of such a direct link would be extremely venomous for international reputation of both Syria and Russia.

Nevertheless, a new turn of the arm race spiral proved to be very unnerving for the United States and Israel. Maby the wish to give them at least a little consolation helped Russia to make an abrupt about-face on a big U.S. priority yesterday, when President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree scrapping the missile deal between Russia and Iran. The decree says that Moscow is not going to sell Iran a highly advanced anti-aircraft missile system S-300.

"You can hear the champagne bottles popping from Washington to Jerusalem", Spencer Ackerman shares his irony at the Wired News.

 Russia has been Iran’s big-power benefactor on matters technical and military for the past decade-plus. But over the past year, it’s been pulled in different directions by the U.S.’s “Reset” strategy, an aggressive diplomatic push to hug Russia tightly. The Russians voted for the additional U.N. sanctions on Iran but swore its contract to sell the S-300s was still in place. Moscow maintained that a long-standing contract to sell S-300 missiles to Iran didn’t violate new UN Security Council sanctions on weapons sales to the Iranians. The U.S. was none too pleased about that interpretation, though the State Department conceded it was technically correct.

S-300 missiles are what the Soviets used during the last decade of the Cold War to protect its key installations from NATO cruise missiles and bombers. Versions developed in the late 1990s have a range of 200 kilometers and can even take out some ballistic missiles. Defense analyst Dan Goure has described the S-300 as “a system that scares every Western air force.”

"Russia's turnaround means Tehran is both more vulnerable to an attack — and, perhaps, a bit more isolated, diplomatically", assumes Ackerman.

However, there are two more Russian arms deals that have set off alarm bells in Washington: Venezuella and Sudan.

 The arms deal with Venezuella worth in the billions of dollars and includes everything from small arms to advanced missiles. One weapon that is of particular concern to the United States is the Igla-S Man-Portable Air Defense System, a shoulder-fired missile designed to shoot down aircraft. It is one of the newest - and hardest to defeat - air defense weapons. It could be easily understood that Venezuella's arms build-up along with its President Hugo Chavez's anti-American rhetoric has met with pointed criticism from Washington.

Another arm topic that is increasingly worrisome to the U.S. are Russia's reported arms sales to Africa, and Sudan in particular. International sanctions prohibit selling weapons to any of the parties fighting in Darfur, but Russian weapons have repeatedly shown up there.

Russia denies breaking the embargo - others disagree contending that Russia has become Khartoum's major arms supplier. Andrew McGregor of the Jamestown Foundation affirms that it may be regarded as Russia's first step in its sound return to Africa.

      AOL News
      Foreign Policy magazine
      The Jamestown Foundation

Max Yakuba

Tags: Russian trade     

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