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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ehud K. Olmert, Day Tripper

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert is on a day trip to Moscow today to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has allocated two hours today for a meeting with Olmert and the flight time from Tel Aviv to Moscow is approximately three and one half hours each way, so this is definitely a trip that can be taken.

Given that Putin just returned from Tehran, where he was the first Russian leader to visit since Joseph Stalin, it is clear that Russia's assistance to Iran's nuclear ambitions will be high on the agenda. Another item that is likely to be discussed is Russia's arms sales to Syria, which are financed by Iran and the results of which often end up in Hezbullah's hands. YNet has the best summary of what's expected at today's meeting:
Senior Russian officials are trying to convince their Israeli counterparts that the Iranian nuclear project is under tight Russian control. Vladimir Putin even announced in the past that nuclear weapons in Iranian hands would also endanger his own country and he hinted to Ehud Olmert that Russia would not supply Iran oil that would enable it to manufacture such weapons.

Moreover, Putin has often reiterated that he has a special commitment towards more than a million immigrants who came to Israel from the former USSR, and would not do anything to put them in harm's way. Israel, Olmert is expected to tell Putin Thursday, that Israel will not accept possession of atomic weapons in Iranian hands – and would weigh all options to eliminate such a threat.
Without a doubt, Olmert is in sync on Iran with US President George Bush whose statement on Iran's quest for nucular (mis-spelling intentional) weapons was widely reported here in Israel last night.

Another area of concern to Olmert is the new arms deals Russia is about to engage in with Syria, and which are financed by Iran. Among other things Putin intends to provide Assad with ground-to-bair missiles and anti-aircraft missiles that to date he has not sold to any other country.

In an attempt to make Russia aware of the dangerous implication of these arms deals, in recent months Israel presented to the Kremlin evidence that Russian weapons sold to Syria had been transferred to Hizbullah. During the two hours Putin has allocated to the meeting, Olmert also plans to express his objection to Russia's attempt to mediate between the Fatah and Hamas factions with the aim of forming a unity government.
The article goes on to state that Olmert claims to have a close relationship with Putin. Perhaps this is so. One money grubber to another.... Or perhaps it's yet another of Olmert's delusions.

As to Putin, my view is that he's playing two games here. First, he's playing the classic European (particularly French) game of staking out a position that is in conflict with the United States so that everyone else will have to deal with him if they want to play the game. Second, as his self-dealing with Russia's oil resources has shown, Putin is a shrewd businessman. Tehran pays cash and lots of it for Russian weaponry - for itself and for Syria and Hezbullah. Putin is not going to give up that cash. So why is Putin taking the time to meet with Olmert? My belief is that he wants more information about Israel's attack on what was apparently a Syrian nuclear facility last month, in which Russia's Pantsyr anti-aircraft system failed miserably. You can't make much money selling ineffective weapons.


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