The Admiral Kuznetsov was deployed by Moscow to the Syrian coast on October 15, leading a naval task force that included the Pyotr Veliky battlecruiser along with the Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov anti-submarine warfare destroyers.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that “the goal of the campaign is to ensure a naval presence in operationally important areas of the oceans.”
(Netanyahu says Russia has “variegated interests” to cooperate with Israel)
The growing Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean sea, with an aircraft carrier capable of detecting many, if not all, Israeli military activities, coupled with the advanced S-300 and S-400 air-defense batteries it has already deployed to Syria, is a cause of concern to many.
A US Defense Official quoted by the Washington Post said Washington was “very concerned” about the deployment of the S-300s, adding that “we’re not sure if any of our aircraft can defeat the S-300.” And that is a concern shared by Jerusalem, as Russia has not only deployed the S-300 to Syria, but also to it’s foe, Iran.
As an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Moscow finds itself part of an alliance between Damascus and Tehran.
Ofer Fridman, visiting research fellow, at the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London told The Jerusalem Post that “there are two different games on two different levels that the Kremlin plays in the region. The cooperation with Iran in support of Assad is strategic, while the military coordination with Israel is of a tactical nature.”
Former Israeli Air Force commander, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu told the Post that despite this alliance, Moscow would “do anything to stop a conflict with Israel” but warned, “we must keep in mind that conflict with Russia could happen,” and if it does, Israel would have no other choice but to destroy the S-300s.
Fridman agreed, saying that “Russian military presence in the Middle East is definitely a reason for concern, but not for panic” as “both sides are not interested in mistakes and therefore there is true coordination and cooperation that is based on mutual respect out of interest.”
With both Russia and Israel carrying out military operations in war-torn Syria, the two nations have implemented a system to coordinate their actions there in order to avoid accidental clashes.
Up until the Russian intervention in Syria, Israel enjoyed air superiority in the Middle East. But the mobile S-300 and S-400 batteries are capable of engaging multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 380 km. away, putting significant parts of Israel in its crosshairs.
No jet can be launched without Russian radar locking on and tracking their flight routes, except for those taking off from IAF bases in the southern Negev, .
With the S-300 and S-400, Moscow has restricted Israel’s strongest deterrence, its Air Force.
Despite the restrictions, Israel allegedly struck targets in Syria after Russia deployed the S-400 to Khmeimim Air Base in the southeastern Syrian city of Latakia.
And while relations remain friendly, Israeli concerns were raised during a recent phone call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as during a meeting of senior Israeli and Russian officials at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on October 27.
According to Russia’s Izvestia newspaper, Israel also requested the Russian Defense Ministry to develop new coordination procedures following the deployment of the S-300s to Syria’s Tartus to avoid accidentally shooting down Israeli aircraft.
And as Fridman told the Post, “It is only a matter of time before a coordination mistake will happen.”
The deployment of the S-300 has been discussed for the past several years, giving Israel time to develop new methods to blind radar and anti-aircraft units, electronic warfare that Israel is well-known for.
According to foreign reports, Israel has already quietly tested ways to defeat the S-300, activating one of the anti-aircraft systems stationed on the island of Crete during joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces in May of last year. That exercise allowed Israeli warplanes to gather data on how the advanced system may be blinded or fooled.
The Russians are said to have breached Israeli airspace on several recent occasions, and even while Israel immediately shoots down any aircraft that penetrates its airspace, Israel has not shot down any Russian aircraft.
Moscow won’t jeopardize its new deeply strategic energy partnership with its Israeli-Greek Cypriot ‘Western’ partners. Where does that leave Iran?
If anything offers a litmus test for trends in hard-nosed realpolitik, it’s the cutting of strategic international energy deals. While the Western media persists in warning of apocalyptic consequences should Iran’s nuclear ambitions lead to outright conflict with Israel – a conflict drawing in Russia et al. – an entirely different scenario is developing as Moscow is quietly buyinglong-term into the Israeli-Cypriot gas and oil energy bonanza.
Despite the Kremlin’s apparent public support for its traditional Middle East (ME) partners, its actions represent nothing less than a paradigm shift in the tectonic plates of regional power. More specifically, they represent an effective selling out of Russia’s backing for both Iran and Syria – something we predicted in Has Russia Sold Out Iran for a Stake in Israeli Gas? last year.
Only too aware of the threat of east Mediterranean supply if Europe is able to diversify away from Russian gas dependency, Moscow has been steadily feting Israel to buy into a piece of the action. On February 26th, that culminated in Russia’s Gazprom clinching a key deal to market Israeli liquefied natural gas (LNG).
But the 20-year contract between Gazprom Marketing, Trading Switzerland and Levant LNG Marketing Corporation represents only the first step in Russia’s new Middle East energy game.
As veteran observer M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote in the Asia Times, “The Tamar deal rewrites the ABC of geopolitics of energy security” being “an important milestone for strengthening Gazprom’s position in the global LNG market … and in the booming Asian LNG market.” More than that, however, it’s a masterstroke that reflects Russia’s underlying priority across the Middle East itself.
Discovered in 2009, the Tamar and Dalit offshore fields hold around nine trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas. Due to come online in 2017, the Tamar LNG Project is expected to produce a cool three million metric tons of LNG annually. A multi-billion dollar floating LNG terminal is to be built near Cyprus to handle the conversion to LNG. And that will also bring into play gas piped from the island’s own Aphrodite field – another seven tcf.
That Moscow is in this for the long haul with its Israeli-Cypriot partners is plain enough. Moscow has already advanced a $3.5 billion loan and attempted to gain more leverage over Cyprus’ economic and energy assets during the recent bitter negotiations in the banking crisis.
But the Tamar deal is just for starters. The Kremlin is playing a much bigger game. Gazprom is already eyeing a role in the development of Israel’s gigantic Leviathan gas field. With its estimated 25 tcf of gas Leviathan is due to come on-stream by 2016. And the eastern Mediterranean bonanza is potentially huge. The US Geological Survey estimates the eastern Mediterranean Levant Basin contains around 123 tcf of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil.
Apart from the potential of supplying Europe by pipeline, this offers Russia, already the global leader in LNG supply, a major role in exporting Mediterranean gas to the highly lucrative and burgeoning Asian market, including China, India and Japan, where piping the gas is not an option.
Given that the Leviathan-Tamar holdings are dominated by a raft of Israeli companies (Delek, Avnar Oil Exploration and others) together with a 39 percent stake held by the US oil major Noble Energy – effectively a joint Israeli-US venture – one can only surmise that critical security commitments have been made by the Kremlin to their new Israeli and US partners.
Russia’s economy depends on its energy revenues. As we have said before: “Putin is only too aware of the triple whammy of falling domestic energy productivity, surging global shale development in the wake of the US shale revolution, and the new threat posed to a European market still dependent on Russian gas imports – the significant potential of Israeli gas exports”.
At a stroke Russia has now achieved a major role, and a serious piece of the eastern Mediterranean energy action, whether the energy is exported north to Europe or east to Asia. And Gazprom is not likely to leave things there.
According to the details of the February deal, Gazprom has also been granted the exclusive right to purchase the LNG produced by the terminal. Thus the Tamar deal greatly strengthens Gazprom’s hand in fulfilling commitments made in a raft of medium and long-term deals with India and in north-east Asia.
Russia’s state-backed Gazprom is being used to extend and secure Russia’s global energy hegemony. But while the Tamar deal did make one or two headlines in the media’s business and energy sections, its wider ramifications for Middle East security has largely been lost on Middle East observers. So let’s spell them out.
First, it sends a clear message to Turkey should the Ankara Government consider military intervention in an attempt to stop Greek Cypriot gas and oil exploration and infrastructure development. Second, for all its apparent support for Syria’s Assad regime, Russia’s energy partnership with Israel is clearly meant for the long haul whichever side gains control in Damascus. No wonder Israel has recently felt sufficiently emboldened to issue oil and gas exploration rights on the disputed Golan Heights.
But, most significantly of all, Russia’s ME ‘re-alignment’ delivers a powerful retort to the hand-wringing angst of Western intellectuals and media ‘experts’ who persist in invoking the fear-laden question: what would Russia do if Israel decides militarily intervention is the only way to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions?
While we have consistently made out a strong case that the (Iranian-Syrian) Shia v Sunni (Saudi and much of the rest of the ME) divide would, despite the rhetoric, means not a single ME government would come to Iran’s aid in the event of an attack, we can also state precisely what Russia won’t do.
Moscow won’t jeopardize its new deeply strategic energy partnership with its Israeli-Greek Cypriot ‘Western’ partners – in particular, its burgeoning relationship with the Middle East’scoming energy superpower, Israel.