Now that another Middle East war seems imminent, concerns are growing about the new powerful weapons that are available to Palestinian terrorists. It appears to be virtually unknown that these weapons are being steadily supplied by Putin’s Russia. In the present atmosphere of the everlasting “reset” of relations between the U.S. and Russia, it is not difficult for the Kremlin to camouflage its arming of terrorists. Indeed, the world is willing to turn a blind eye.
This month, for instance, Russia announced it was making another gift to the “Palestinian security forces” on the West Bank: 50 armored vehicles. According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry earlier this month, the gift was already in Jordan and about to be passed on to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). It was President Medvedev who made this decision which, the Kremlin says, will help the development of a Palestinian statehood.
The Russian spokesmen made much of the fact that the actual weapons had been removed from the vehicles. However, this does not make them as harmless as Moscow hoped to suggest. Not long before, Israel saw a wave of so-called “bulldozer terrorist attacks.” Palestinians hijacked bulldozers working on Jerusalem construction sites and went to the city streets ramming buses and cars. The terrorists were from the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Some observers at the time described those attacks as evidence of Israeli success in the war against terrorism. Suicide bombers, they pointed out, couldn’t penetrate Israel’s borders and the bulldozers were their last resort. And the “bulldozer terrorists” left far less dead and wounded than usual “martyrs” – even though the figures are of little comfort to the victims.
Owing to Russia’s generosity, the terrorists are getting a new chance for success as now they will be able to hijack armored vehicles. The kill potential of these vehicles is by no means less than of bulldozers; their maneuver capability and speed are better and they can bypass Israeli checkpoints on rolling terrain or simply ram into border crossings – which are not impenetrable fortresses.
Officially, like the U.S. and many other countries, Russia supports the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank led by Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It’s difficult to say why anybody would consider Abbas and his Fatah Party, founded by Yasser Arafat, a partner to make business with. Arafat was the Godfather of Terror and within almost six years after his death, Fatah has never distanced itself from the founding father’s ideas. However, in line with the custom to look for “hawks” and “doves” everywhere, while Fatah’s twin brother Hamas is internationally called a “radical movement,” Fatah is considered to be “moderate.”
Still, Russia’s relations with Hamas blossom just as well. The Hamas leaders are received at the highest levels in Moscow and at popular sea resorts like Sochi. In January, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told the Security Council that the purpose of Moscow’s contacts with Hamas was to persuade its leaders to take steps towards Palestinian reunification. Without unity on the platform of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) it is very difficult to create the Palestinian state, he stressed. Churkin also explained that Moscow worked with all Palestinian sides in order to train officers for the Palestinian security forces, as well as to give Palestinians government scholarships in order to educate them in Russian universities. Admittedly, the education Russia is providing to the Palestinians is certainly working – as demonstrated, for example, by the recent success of “Palestinian engineers from Gaza” who managed to produce home-made rockets of longer range to shell Israeli cities. Russia’s education of Palestinians can truly work wonders.
The main beneficiary of Russian arms supplies, meanwhile, appears to be Hezbollah in Lebanon. The terrorist organization controlling the south of Lebanon is supported by Syria and Iran, who are willing to supply it with any kind of weapons. With both Hezbollah sponsors being customers of the Russian weapons industry, a large part of Hezbollah’s ample arsenal is Russian-made. In April, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of supplying Hezbollah with Russian-made Scud missiles. Those type of missiles were used by Saddam Hussein against the US-led coalition forces in 1991, and they are ever since considered not very effective because of their low accuracy. But while they may be ineffective against an advancing army, they would be very dangerous against densely populated areas in Israel – and that is how Hezbollah is certainly planning to use them. The missiles have a longer range than any other rocket Hezbollah has used before and they can reach any location in the Jewish state. Hezbollah officials have readily confirmed that they are in possession of new types of weapons and will continue their rearmament. They have stressed that Hezbollah’s arsenals “do not compare” with those of the U.S. and Israel, but they emphasize their right to buy whatever they find necessary to “protect” Lebanon and they stress they will be able to hit Tel Aviv in the case of war.
Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned that Hezbollah has more rockets and missiles than most governments, American officials have avoided mentioning Syria during any war of words – and nobody ever mentions Russia.
While Syria denies arming Hezbollah with Scuds, the history of Syria supplying Hezbollah with Russian-made weapons is well-documented. Israeli tanks were shelled with Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles during the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah militants also used Russian-made RPG-29 rocket launchers. Israeli troops seized terrorists’ armory, where they found cases with missiles and launchers with invoices identifying the sender as the Defense Ministry of Russia and the receiver as the Defense Ministry of Syria. At that time, Russian media openly boasted about the Russian military hardware used in Lebanon, and gloated over Israeli losses – 54 Merkava tanks.
Although the invoices provided real “smoking gun” evidence, Syria still made a usual attempt of a whitewash. Syrian Ambassador to Moscow Hassan Rishah claimed Hezbollah had never used Russian weapons supplied to Syria and that Damascus had never sponsored Hezbollah. The blame was placed on the free market and globalization, which allowed Hezbollah to purchase any arms.
The war in Southern Lebanon ended in August 2006 by UN Security Council resolution #1701, which included an arms embargo on Lebanon, except for transfers authorized by the Lebanese government or the U.N. In 2008, Russia, with no requests from Beirut, offered Lebanon 15 MiG-29 supersonic fighters as a gift. Lebanese authorities, although grateful, seemed confused as they couldn’t find an airfield where they could put the present. They never found a place to place the fighter and finally asked Moscow to choose a different gift. In March 2010, Russia decided that the gift would be a dozen of Mi-24 (Hind) battle helicopters, all heavily armed and armored. With Hezbollah representatives acting in the Lebanese government, and Lebanon’s President hailing Hezbollah as a “stronghold of Lebanon’s security,” there is little doubt that Hezbollah will have access to those helicopters in the next war. The helicopters have serious ground-attack capabilities and will pose a serious threat to Israel.
It is high time to hold Russia to account for its steady efforts to stir up trouble in the Middle East by arming terrorist organizations.