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ICG Risk Blog - [ Remember the Bipolar client states that predated al Qaeda and Hezbollah? Think of having all of them at once ]

Remember the Bipolar client states that predated al Qaeda and Hezbollah? Think of having all of them at once

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From a private list note of November 2001:

The umbrella Al Qaeda organization [has] has no choice but to contest the US -- in their terms, we "are" the West or, at the very least, personify the West. In the absence of Bipolar Politics in the collapse of the Soviet Union, nascent states or groups could no longer play west against east nor gain support from Soviet sponsors. (Readers of my age will remember that the East German and Czech security services trained certain regimes throughout Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere.) Al Qaeda cannot now get anyone else to intervene on its behalf. It must directly contest the US as the undisputed leader of the West in its quest to create a resurgent fundamentalist Islam.

The Soviet retrenchment helped propel Arab insurgents such as the Sunni al Qaeda and Shia Hezbollah to the fore and redirected American attention, effort, and warfighting, even as Bipolar confrontation ebbed. For a brief period, it was as if the USSR had left the planet. No more. Arms are Russia's third-largest industry after oil and gas. Recent Russian advanced weapon system sales to former Soviet client states and states at odds with US security interests lead me to believe that Russia has elected to pursue specific foreign policy goals in addition to hard currency:

  • Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport (Russian Defence Export), has stated that Russia would "strictly" observe international law in its export efforts but "will not restrict sales of other weapons to countries that are out of favor with the United States." (Only a joint deal on controlling MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) is on offer.)
  • While India and China remain the two top importers of Russian defense equipment, Rosoboronexport is expanding its weapons clientele by planning to accept barter, preferentially in hydrocarbons, as payment for defense export purchases.
  • Russia is out to improve its 2004 hard currency export of US$5.8 billion, a post-Soviet record. (While Soviet era sales in the 1980s were thought to be US$20 billion per annum, most was "provided to Soviet allies on a credit or barter basis or even free of charge.")
  • Russia has renewed the time-honored Soviet debt amnesty approach to sustain bilateral relations while stimulating weapons orders, writing off "$10 billion of the $13.4 billion debt that Syria owed the USSR for arms deliveries before 1991.
  • In the Western hemisphere, Russia acknowledged puzzlement at US concerns as it sold helicopters and 100,00 assault rifles to Venezuela. Citing Russian-Venezuelan "bilateral cooperation [that] does not violate laws and obligations" and the fact that the US and other NATO nations had supplied Caracas with weapons, Russia said US protests are a "dishonest form of competition and an attempt to squeeze Russian producers from the arms market." For its part, "Venezuela is also evaluating Russian MiG-29 fighters as possible replacements for its F-16s."

But this seems to pale in the face of provocative Russian sales to the Middle East, notably Syria and Iran:

The Russian newspaper Kommersant recently reported of Russian plans to sell a number of missile systems to Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism and in particular Hezbollah. These included the shoulder-fired SS-18 Igla anti-aircraft missiles, but also and more significantly, eighteen of Russia’s new and made-for-export SS-26 Iskander missile, and the S-300PMU-2 (SA-10) air and missile defense system, similar to that which rings Moscow, and other systems. The S-300PMU-2 system is one of Moscow’s most developed air and missile defense systems. The SS-26 has increasingly made the news for its touted capabilities to evade other air-defensespossibly the U.S. Patriot interceptorsand the Russian’s plans to market it widely, including in the middle east. The export version of the SS-26 Iskander missile has a reported range of 280 km, sufficient for Syria to strike nearly all of Israel.

Regional destabilization could easily result from this arms battery:

  • APC-mounted batteries of SA-18 Igla-S are an improvement on the Strela and is highly effective against small targets such as helicopters, drones, and cruise missiles. The SA-18 purchase comes on the heels of Syria's obtaining AT-14 Kornet anti-tank missiles.
  • A replacement for the Scud B, the SS-X-26 SRBM is a mobile tactical missile system designed for theater level conflicts and is designed to defeat the Patriot PAC-3 missile shield. The SS-X-26 has two variants, the export SS-26 Iskander-E (280 km range and 480 kg payload) and the Russian Federation Tender (400 km range and 700 kg payload). Accuracy depends upon which guidance system(s) are used. The combined use of inertial navigation, GPS and optical correlation provides an accuracy of 10 to 30 m CEP. The SS-26 has been marketed to Syria and Iran, among other states.
  • The S-300P (SA-10 Grumble) surface-to-air missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy incoming ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and low-flying aircraft. The S-300 is currently deployed by the Russian Federation and exported. The most recent variants are the S-300PMU-1 (SA-10D) and the S-300PMU-2 (SA-10E Favorit). A typical S-300P system would have a 36D6 Tin Shield surveillance radar, 76N6 Clam Shell low level radar, and 30N6 Flap Lid engagement radar.
  • While Iran purchased an unidentified number of S-300PMU-1 missiles from Russia in 1993, it appears that Russia has now delivered the 36D6 Tin Shield surveillance radar, and it may have installed them at Iranian nuclear facilities. (While there are more details on offer, too many citations point back to a single DEBKAfile article, thus the prudent writer will wait for more independent corroboration.)

What fun we shall have with reemerging armed client states on the one hand and al Qaeda and a worse threat in Hezbollah on the other.

Gordon Housworth



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