Russian arms for Hizballah cross Israel’s red line
DEBKAfile, Jul 24 2016
Whenever he talks to Bibi, which is roughly every week to ten days, Putin turns aside all his complaints about Russian arms supplies to Hizballah. The issue is also raised without results by Israeli boxtops on trips to Moscow, including Mossad Director Yossi Cohen on Jul 1. Nonetheless, Bibi persisted in complaining again about the Russian arms reaching Hizballah in his latest phone conversation with Putin on Saturday Jul 23. Our military sources say he made the call primarily to raise another topic, the UAV flights from Syria into Israeli airspace on Jul 17. Sfter their conversation, the Kremlin issued a bland statement saying that the two leaders discussed issues related to the war on terrorism, and that both agreed to continue the ties between the countries at “various levels.” Our military sources report that the conviction gaining ground now among AMAN and IAF chiefs is that the drone was not Iranian or Hizballah-made, but Russian. They take a grave view of the episode, especially because the UAV, which hovered for some hours over the Golan and northern Israel, appears to have been a “Searcher,” the reconnaissance drone developed by Israel and manufactured by Russia under Israeli license as “Forpost.” Moscow is making use of the sophisticated “Forpost” UAV for surveillance and intelligence-gathering in Syria, Ukraine and terrorist targets in the Caucasian mountains. If IDF chiefs are correct, then a Russian drone developed by Israel was used by to spy on Israel after it was launched from an Iranian or Hizballah base in the Syrian Qalamun Mountains. This action crossed more than one Israeli red line. Adding insult to injury, the drone’s electronic jamming devices were activated to disarm the missiles and aircraft Israel scrambled to intercept it. This issue is a further irritant on top of the Russian arms supplies to Hizballah, which elude Israel’s efforts to interrupt them by mean of two covert tactics:
- Russian weapons consignments to the Syrian army are in excess of the recipient’s requirements, and the surplus is secretly diverted to Hizballah. Israeli airstrikes only smash the Iranian and Syrian weapons convoys known to be heading out of Syria to Lebanon on the strength of data provided by AMAN. But the traffic missed by AMAN goes through to its destination. Our military sources report that by this tactic, Hizballah has succeeded in basing most of its fighting units, not only in Syria but also in Lebanon, on Russian weaponry, last year at battalion level, and by Jun 2016 including company level. Their hardware is not limited to personal sidearms from Russia, but also anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.
- Where do they come from? The Russian military industry is the main supplier of raw materials for Syria’s arms manufacture, including missiles. Without this assistance, the Assad regime would not have been able to manufacture the Scud C mid-range ground-to-ground missiles or the Fateh-110 missiles. Some of these missiles made in Syria are quietly consigned to the Hizballah. Our sources have found that Putin habitually acts surprised and feigns ignorance whenever Netanyahu raises the issue of the Russian weapon supply to Hizballah. He then promises to look into Israel’s complaint and get back to him with an answer. Weeks go by and the Russian president informs the prime minister that the thorough examination he ordered found no evidence of any Russian military or civilian body supplying Hizballah with weapons. Bibi shows his disbelief each time he speaks with Putin, and continues to raise the issue. Meanwhile, the Russian arms supply to Hizballah goes on, with Israel constrained from interfering.
These occurrences demonstrate that the military and intelligence relations between Israel and Russia are in fact a far cry from the entente cordiale presumed in Israel and Western capitals. Indeed, working relations are handicapped by the effect of such incidents to erode even the limited understanding the two leaders reached to coordinate military intelligence and air force operations in the Syrian arena.