Russia's motives for cancelling Iran arms deal

Either US-Israeli pressure on Russia is yielding fast results or a likely military strike on Iran is increasingly imminent.

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For the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to ban the planned sale of S-300 air defence missiles to Iran earlier this week can only mean one of two possibilities: either US-Israeli pressure on Russia is yielding fast results or a likely military strike on Iran is increasingly imminent, declared Al Quds al Arabi in its editorial. The US administration had expressed concern over Russia's $800 million deal with Iran. Israel for its part went as far as threatening Russia with the delivery of advanced weapons to its enemies in Georgia, Ukraine and Romania.

No one knows what was the price that Moscow asked for in return for breaking its arms deal with Iran. It is certain that the alternative price was high as the Russian government excels in using whatever instruments at its disposal to serve its interests in the Middle East. It is also possible that Arab countries intervened and made alluring economic offers to Russia in exchange for breaking its deal with Iran.

There is no doubt that Tehran's defence strategy will suffer as a result of this Russian retraction, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the US-Israeli air strike would be easy. Iran's power lies in its ability to retaliate, which brings to mind the situation of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who were able to defeat US forces although they do not possess any advanced missiles or aircraft in their arsenal.

In an article for the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat, Samir Atallah commented on a recent article featured in The New York Times on the Afghan elections last week. According to the article, votes in Kunduz province sold for $15 each; in east Ghazni, for $18. In Kandahar, votes were sold for as little as $1. The price seemed to hover in the $5 to $6 range in Helmand and Khost Provinces.

However, before denouncing the Afghan constituency for tampering with US democracy and the Afghan president Hamid Karzai's directives, one must remember that $5 is an entire week's budget for hundreds of thousands of Afghans; $20 is a whole month's income. The country's budget is no more than $170 million allocated for health, defence, interior, education, social affairs and finance. "I had previously suggested to Washington that instead of raining down aircrafts and bombs on the Afghan people, it had better try to distribute the budget for one month of war in the country's towns and villages." It is true that the tribal chiefs would devour at least 80 per cent of it, but the remaining 20 per cent would suffice, with time, to change the face of Afghanistan. "One decade after US democracy landed in Afghanistan, the price for the freedom of choice still doesn't exceed the cost of a loaf of bread."

Lebanon is going through a delicate phase that doesn't tolerate high tensions of the caliber that led to a long and devastating civil war, declared the Emirati daily Akhbar al Arab in its editorial.

The present phase requires national efforts that transcend tensions and vendettas if there is to be any hope for an escape from the conflict veiled behind the International Tribunal's façade to exact retribution on the country itself rather than on the assassins of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Those who formed the tribunal had, upon false information, accused Damascus and a number of Lebanese high military officials of the murder. Now, however, Syria is acquitted despite the political siege imposed on it. Matters escalated to the point of planning a military attack on the country as it is considered a promoter of terrorism.

Today, once again, false information is being used to plant the seeds of sedition in Beirut. The Hariri assassination case is being exploited to hinder Lebanon's chances for peace and stability. Internal powers are using the issue to weave a strain of verbal conflicts that might spark another civil confrontation. In the face of such threats, Arab countries must mobilise in order to contain the crisis that threatens to enflame the entire region. The target this time isn't only Lebanon but the stability and the future of the Arab world.

An Arab MP in the Israeli Knesset, Mohammed Baraka, described the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, as "the jackass of history", wrote Waleed Nouweihed, the managing editor of the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat. The Arab-Israeli parliamentarian, who now risks deportation, was reacting to a proposal made earlier this week by Mr Lieberman to swap "land and population" for peace with the Palestinian Authority. By virtue of Mr Lieberman's bid, Israel should agree to withdraw from Palestinian land occupied in 1967, provided that, in exchange, it evicts the Palestinians of 1948 from Israeli territory.

"The upfront response of the Arab MP was necessary to silence the voice of this new settler who has had prosecutors after him on corruption, graft and falsification charges." Even though Mr Lieberman stated on an Israeli radio station that his proposal does not represent an official Israeli stand, one can never be sure that his pitch is not going to turn into stated Israeli policy. After all, Mr Lieberman is the leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. What are now his own personal ideas could soon become the whole party's agenda should the direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians fail, potentially leading to breakup of the Likud-led ruling coalition.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem