Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Russian-Georgian War: Implications for the Middle East

The Russian-Georgian War: Implications for the Middle East

http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2008/eu_russia0439_08_18.asp

Russia's invasion of Georgia demonstrated Moscow's growing power and is making waves in the Middle East, a report by a leading U.S. analyst said.

The report by the Institute for Contemporary Affairs asserted that Iran would be emboldened by Moscow's successful military campaign.

"The long-term outcomes of the current Russian-Georgian war will be felt far and wide, from Afghanistan to Iran, and from the Caspian to the Mediterranean," the report, titled "The Russian-Georgian War: Implications for the Middle East," said.

"The war is a mid-sized earthquake which indicates that the geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting, and nations in the Middle East, including Israel, need to take notice."

Authored by Ariel Cohen, the report said Russia's strategic goals included increasing control of energy pipelines to Turkey. Cohen also warned Israel not to provoke Moscow or rely on U.S. support against Iran.

"U.S. expressions of support of the kind provided to Georgia — short of an explicit mutual defense pact — may or may not result in military assistance if/when Israel is under attack, especially when the attacker has an effective deterrent, such as nuclear arms deliverable against U.S. targets," the report said. "In the future, such an attacker could be Iran or an Arab country armed with atomic weapons. Israel can and should rely on its own deterrent — a massive survivable second-strike capability."

The report criticized the U.S. intelligence community, which failed to detect Russian efforts to annex Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Cohen, who warned that Ukraine was Moscow's next target, said the Bush administration did not prepare the Georgian military for a Russian attack.

"This is something to remember when looking at recent American intelligence assessments of the Iranian nuclear threat or the unsuccessful training of Palestinian Authority security forces against Hamas," Cohen said.

Cohen said a pro-Russian regime in Georgia would result in Moscow's full control of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Erzurum natural gas pipeline, both of which reach Turkey. Israel has been receiving some of its oil from Ceyhan and has a "stake in the smooth flow of oil from the Caspian."

The report said Russia financed and armed the Russian ethnic community in Georgia to foment unrest. Cohen compared this to Iran's use of proxies to attack Israel from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

"This use of small, ethnically-based proxies is similar to Iran's use of Hizbullah and Hamas to continuously attack Israel," the report said. "Tbilisi tried for years to deal with these militias by offering a negotiated solution, including full autonomy within Georgia."

Cohen, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said Russia plans to extend its influence throughout the Middle East. He cited Russian Navy bases in the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartous and plans to establish a presence in Libya.

"Clearly, with the renewal of East-West tensions as a result of Russia's moves against Georgia, it will be much more difficult to obtain Moscow's agreement to enhance sanctions and international pressures on Iran," the report said. "The struggle to diplomatically halt its [Iran's] nuclear program will become far more difficult."

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