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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Russia Gives Direct Military Assistance to Hezbollah

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Russia has moved from giving financial aid and diplomatic cover to terrorist organizations to providing them with military intelligence to be used in attacking Israel, just as it provided U.S. military secrets to Iraq during the U.S. invasion of that country.

During the fighting in Lebanon, Hezbollah received direct intelligence support from Syria, using data collected by listening posts jointly manned by Russian and Syrian crews. Hezbollah was also fed intelligence from new listening posts built on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which are operated jointly with Iran. This information was confirmed in recent reports by the defense journal Jane's.

Syria's centrality to the collection and transfer of intelligence to Hezbollah is based on separate agreements Damascus signed with Moscow and Tehran on intelligence cooperation. The agreement with Russia is much older than the one with Iran, which was signed earlier this year. As happened with the significant numbers of advanced Russian anti-tank missiles procured by Syria and transferred to Hezbollah, Russia found itself operating indirectly in favor of the Lebanese Shi'ite organization in matters of intelligence.

In addition to the profits from arms sales to Syria, the Russo-Syrian intelligence cooperation benefits Moscow in terms of the actual first-hand data collected by the listening posts. Russia is also involved in assisting Syria to enlarge two of its ports on the Mediterranean, Latakia and Tartus. Reports of this development have emerged only recently. Israel complained to Russia regarding the transfer of advanced anti-tank missiles sold to Syria. Moscow denied the reports but also promised to investigate Israel's claims.

It is not clear whether Israel also protested over the transfer of intelligence collected by the Russian-Syrian listening posts to Hezbollah. The intelligence cooperation agreement between Syria and Iran is new. It is part of a broader strategic cooperation accord between the two states that was achieved in November 2005 and confirmed during the visit to Damascus in January 2006 of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The agreement on intelligence cooperation gives great emphasis to electronic surveillance and involves the construction of four listening stations. According to Jane's, the funding for the stations, estimated in the neighborhood of dozens of million dollars, came mostly from the budget of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Two of these stations were built prior to July 12, the date the fighting began in Lebanon. One was constructed at Baab al-Hawa, close to Syria's border with Turkey, and a second, which began operating in early June, was set up on the Golan Heights. Two other stations will be constructed no later than January 2007. Iran has focused on potential threats against its territory as a result of the friction that has emerged between Tehran and the international community over its failure to freeze its nuclear enrichment program.

The Revolutionary Guard is keen to broaden its involvement in the Middle East in general and enhance its intelligence-gathering capabilities on activities in the Mediterranean region. In addition to Israel, which is an obvious target of this intelligence-gathering effort, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and American forces in the region are also of great interest. According to the Jane's report, in its agreement of intelligence cooperation with Syria, Iran insisted that no Russian intelligence officers should be allowed access to the new listening posts, despite the long standing deal between Damascus and Moscow.

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