[Marxism] jWSJ article on alleged Iran-Syria radar deal hilites defensive posture of both countries

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Jul 9 03:26:27 MDT 2010

Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett are bourgeois commentators on Iran
whose integrity to the facts as they know them has yet to be effectively
challenged by anyone, although they have been subjected to red-baiting
Iran-baiting, and so on. Of course like other servants of imperialism who
have sometimes drawn a beat in semicolonial countries, they seem to have
ended up identifying more with the intended victim than was considered
patriotic. So sue them.
Fred Feldman


Iran, Israel, and Air Defense:
What, Exactly, Is the "Threat"?
by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had sent Syria a
"sophisticated radar system that could threaten Israel's ability to launch a
surprise attack against Iran's nuclear facilities."  The story cited
reporting from "two Israeli officials, two U.S. officials and a Western
intelligence source," and was "confirmed . . . by the Israeli military."  We
are somewhat confused by the reporter, Charles Levinson, writing that the
"Israeli military" has "confirmed" the transfer which had been "described"
by his other sources.  As far as we can tell from the story as it was
written by Mr. Levinson, only Iran and Syria could have "confirmed" the
reports from Mr. Levinson's sources.  (For the record, both Iran and Syria
have denied that any radar transfer took place, as Mr. Levinson duly notes
in his story.)

Of course, none of Mr. Levinson's sources offered any information as to "how
they determined the shipment took place or discuss the radar's type or
capacity."  But his sources assure Mr. Levinson that the new radar "would
give Syria and its ally Iran improved visibility of Israeli air space and
provide early warning of any imminent strike."

Furthermore, Mr. Levinson's sources are concerned that Syria might share
data from the new radar with Hizballah.  Mr. Levinson cites one non-official
"electronic warfare and radar expert" arguing that, if this happened, it
would "likely increase the accuracy and lethality of Hezbollah missiles
aimed at Israeli cities (sic)," as well as "incoming Israeli aircraft."  But
Mr. Levinson's official sources seem to be focused on the potential
contributions that the radar might make to Hizballah's defensive/deterrent
capabilities (and even Hizballah's missile force is best understood as a
deterrent capability): "A clear picture of the skies above Israel and
Lebanon would give Hezbollah greater freedom of movement during any
conflict, since the group would know when its fighters were at risk of being
bombed from the air."

So, if we have read Mr. Levinson's story correctly -- the transfer of
sophisticated Iranian air defense radars to Syria (if said transfer actually
happened) is/would be a bad thing because:

    * it would give Iran more warning time, and hence a better chance to
defend itself against an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear targets; and

    * if data from that new radar were shared with Hizballah, Hizballah
would be in a better position to defend Lebanon against offensive Israeli
military action.

It seems to us that there is a pattern here.  Israeli commandos rappel down
ropes from helicopters to board Turkish vessels on the high seas -- and
people on board those vessels "attacked" the commandos.  (As we wrote
recently, what, exactly, is the legal basis for expecting people on board
the ships to welcome, or at least acquiesce to, forcible boarding on the
high seas?)  Russia concludes a contract to provide Iran with S-300
anti-aircraft missiles (which cannot possibly be used in an offensive
manner) and the United States and Europe exert strenuous efforts to
forestall delivery of such a "provocative" weapons system.  And now,
anti-aircraft radars in Syria are another "threat" to Israel's security.

The pattern is grounded in a reality that we've previously identified:
Israeli political and policy elites are intent on preserving a regional
balance of power that is strongly tilted in Israel's favor.  They want to
forestall any developments -- Iran acquiring a perceived nuclear "breakout"
capability, Turkey delivering aid directly to Gaza, or Syria improving its
air defense capabilities -- that would constrain Israel's currently
unconstrained freedom of unilateral military action.  As we wrote in

    One can readily appreciate why Israel values its status as the Middle
East's military hegemon and wants to maintain the maximum possible room for
unilateral military initiative.  But that strategic preference is not
legitimated by the U.N. Charter, the laws of war, or any international
convention.  Moreover, Israel's strategic preference for preserving and
enhancing its military hegemony does not, at this point, serve the cause of
regional stability or containing the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities
in the Middle East.

You do not have to take our word for this.  In May, a group of retired
senior IDF officers, Israeli diplomats, and Israeli intelligence officials
conducted a war game, under the auspices of the Interdisciplinary Center at
Herzliyya, which assumed that Iran had acquired a nuclear weapons
capability.  Our former colleague Dan Kurtzer played the U.S. President in
the war game, which was also attended by the leader of the opposition in the
Knesset, Tzipi Livni.  As Israeli conference participants subsequently told
Western media, the main problem with an Iranian nuclear capability is not
that such a capability poses some sort of "existential threat" to Israel,
but that it "would blunt Israel's military autonomy."  One participant, a
retired Director of Military Intelligence for the IDF, even said that, if
Iran obtained a nuclear weapons capability (which, of course, Iran denies it
is seeking), it would treat that capability as a means of "self defence and
strategic balance."

Flynt Leverett directs the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, where
he is also a Senior Research Fellow.  Additionally, he teaches at
Pennsylvania State University's School of International Affairs.  Hillary
Mann Leverett is CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a
political risk consultancy.  In September 2010, she will also take up an
appointment as Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at Yale
University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.  This article was
published in The Race for Iran on 5 July 2010 under a Creative Commons
license. Comments (0) | Print
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JUNE 30, 2010

Iran Arms Syria With Radar
System Could Help Tehran Dodge Israeli Strike; a Blow to U.S. Strategy on


JERUSALEM-Iran has sent Syria a sophisticated radar system that could
threaten Israel's ability to launch a surprise attack against Iran's nuclear
facilities, say Israeli and U.S. officials, extending an alliance aimed at
undermining Israel's military dominance in the region.

The radar could bolster Syria's defenses by providing early warning of
Israeli air-force sorties. It could also benefit Hezbollah, the Iran-backed
militant group based in Lebanon and widely believed to receive arms from

Any sharing of radar information by Syria could increase the accuracy of
Hezbollah's own missiles and bolster its air defenses. That would boost
Hezbollah defenses, which U.S. and Israeli officials say have been
substantially upgraded since 2006, the last time Israel fought the southern
Lebanon-based group.

The mid-2009 transfer was described in recent months by two Israeli
officials, two U.S. officials and a Western intelligence source, and
confirmed Wednesday by the Israeli military. Though they didn't name the
system's final recipient in Syria, these and other officials described it as
part as a dramatic increase in weapons transfers and military coordination
among Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

Iran and Syria both denied that a radar transfer took place.

The increased sophistication of the weapons transfers and military
cooperation among the three signal an increased risk of conflict on
Israeli's northern border. U.S. officials worry any new fighting would be
more likely to include Syria, which hasn't directly engaged Israeli in
combat since 1974.

The radar transfer could potentially violate a 2007 United Nations Security
Council resolution that bans Iran from supplying, selling or transferring
"any arms or related materiel."

Though officials say the transaction took place about a year ago, Israel and
the U.S. haven't publicized it, a departure from years past when Israeli
officials were often eager to trumpet Iranian arms transfers to Syria and
Hezbollah as violations of Security Council resolutions.

Some analysts say Israel believes Iran wants to escalate tensions on
Israel's northern border with Lebanon and Syria to divert attention from its
nuclear program. Israel has shied away from publicizing the transfer, these
people say, to avoid playing into Iran's hands by increasing domestic
pressure on Israel's government to take military action.

The radar report is likely to place greater pressure on the Syria strategy
of the Obama administration, which has aimed to tamp down tensions with
Syria as it tries to rebuild diplomatic ties.

U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sent a
high-level trade delegation to Damascus in June, continue to argue that
Washington has the best hope of altering Syrian President Bashar Assad's
behavior, and weakening his alliance with Tehran, through diplomatic

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the transfer.

Israeli officials confirmed in private the transfer of the advanced radar,
but the military wouldn't release specifics in response to queries by The
Wall Street Journal.

"Iran is engaged in developing Syrian intelligence and aerial detection
capabilities, and Iranian representatives are present in Syria for that
express purpose," the Israeli military said in a statement. "Radar
assistance is only one expression of that cooperation."

Ahmed Salkini, the spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in Washington, called
the report of the radar shipment "classic Israeli PR stunts aimed at
diverting the world's attention from the atrocities they are committing in
Gaza and other occupied territories, and we will not continue wasting our
time" commenting on them.

Iran denied that it had sent sophisticated radars to Syria. "It is
absolutely not true," said Mohamad Bak Sahraee, spokesman for Iran's mission
to the United Nations. Hezbollah officials in Beirut declined to comment.

Syria, which has long struggled against Israel's superior military, has its
own interest in acquiring advanced radar. Israeli fighter jets bombed a
Syrian site in 2007 that Israelis say housed a nuclear reactor in the final
stages of construction. Syria said it was a defunct military facility.

Some military analysts have suggested that Israel was able to slip into and
out of Syrian air space during that raid by jamming older Syrian radar.

In the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, "There was no opposition to
our jets. We flew freely," said Cpt. Ron, an active duty Israeli F-16 pilot,
who under Israeli security restrictions would allow himself to be identified
only by his first name and rank. "In the next Lebanon war, we know it will
not be like that."

Israeli officials have in recent months accused Iran and Syria of
transferring to Hezbollah Syrian-made M-600 missiles, capable of striking
targets in Tel Aviv within a few hundred feet of accuracy; advanced shoulder
launched anti-aircraft missiles; and an arsenal of short-range rockets that
Israeli officials say has grown to more than 40,000, from 12,000 in 2006.

U.S. and Israeli officials also say Hezbollah has received training in Syria
on more advanced radar-guided, truck-launched anti-aircraft missiles, though
they say it isn't clear whether those weapons systems have been transferred
from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In April, Israeli President Shimon Peres publicly accused Syria of
transferring Scud missiles to Hezbollah, an accusation that U.S. officials
privately affirmed.

The public accusation marked the first time Western intelligence agencies
believe a state may have transferred ballistic missiles to a non-state
militia that the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist group. The missiles
would give Hezbollah the ability to hit virtually all of Israel from
Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Syrian, Lebanese and Hezbollah officials have denied the Scud transfer.

A radar deal stands to further shift the region's strategic balance.

Israeli and U.S. officials wouldn't say how they determined the shipment
took place or discuss the radar's type or capacity.

But they say it would give Syria and its ally Iran improved visibility of
Israeli air space and provide early warning of any imminent Israeli strike.
Amid Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, Israeli officials have suggested
they could strike Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

More advanced radar technologies would also likely increase the accuracy and
lethality of Hezbollah missiles aimed at Israeli cities and incoming Israeli

"An effective long-range radar is the kind of thing you'd need to make
longer-range missiles accurate," said David Fulghum, an electronic warfare
and radar expert. "Up till now, [Hezbollah] was just sort of lighting the
fuse and shooting them to land wherever."

A clear picture of the skies above Israel and Lebanon would give Hezbollah
greater freedom of movement during any conflict, since the group would know
when its fighters were at risk of being bombed from the air.

"The Iranians have two interests," said a U.S. official who is familiar with
the arms transfers. "They need Hezbollah to be a powerful threat against
Israel, and they are interested in knowing what is coming to them from

Current and former U.S. officials who've worked on Syria said the U.S. and
Israel have often had to trend lightly on the issue of Damascus's arms
dealings for fear of stoking a broader Middle East war. President George W.
Bush's administration was notified of Israel's planned 2007 attack on Syria.

For more than a half year, the U.S. kept secret its intelligence outlining
the reactor's construction, fearing that publicizing it could pressure
Israel and Syria into a conflict, said a former U.S. official who was part
of the deliberations.

"We didn't comment on the reactor for six months" after Israel's attack,
only then accusing the Syrians of building a reactor, this official said.
"We wanted to find a way to use the situation for our advantage."

Indeed, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert communicated to Mr. Assad
through third channels after the attack that Israel remained open to peace

Many Syrian and Israeli officials said the two sides made progress on
resolving their dispute over the Golan Heights region before Israel's
invasion of the Gaza Strip in early 2009 stalled the pro

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