That said, Kremlin sources say Russia's role in Lebanon could soon grow and could eventually include ground forces operating under the U.N. flag. "Russia has already provided $2 million worth of aid to Lebanon during the crisis, when it sent four aircraft with goods requested by the Lebanese government to Cyprus, where they were passed on to UN workers, who delivered them to Lebanon," reports the Russian Information Agency. "Russia is also considering participation in the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon, the foreign ministry earlier said." Currently, the U.N. is building a force of some 15,000 "peacekeepers" in southern Lebanon, led by Rome.
On the face of it, Putin's move may appear to some to be consistent with assisting the international community in bringing peace to this troubled region. But this is a classic case of the camel's nose getting under the tent. The introduction of Russian armed forces into Lebanon would be a massively destablizing event if these 300 specialists and advisors are later augmented with Russian ground forces. It's difficult, of course, to object to such a small force at the beginning, but President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert should do so anyway. They should say "absolutely not" to Putin. After all, once a precedent is set and Russian forces are in Lebanon, how exactly does one get them out?
Let's be clear: Moscow is not a neutral player. Dating back to Czar Peter the Great, Russia has long sought to dominate or fully control the Middle East. That's why it has been bedrock U.S. foreign policy for decades to keep Russian forces out of the region. Putin in recent years has been moving Russia back towards Soviet-style government and military policy, centralizing political control and boosting military spending by some 40%. Under Putin's leadership, Russia has also joined the "Axis of Evil." It is selling billions of dollars worth of missiles and high-tech weaponry to Iran, Syria, Algeria and other radical Islamic and Arab regimes. It is building nuclear facilities for Iran, training Iranian nuclear scientists, and running political interference for Iran at the U.N. to prevent the West from imposing sanctions despite the fact that Iran's leader has called for the U.S. and Israel to be wiped "off the map." Russia even refuses to classify Hezbollah or Hamas as terrorist organizations. As such, we should be very wary about Putin's long-term objectives.
Exclusive interviews and previously classified White House, CIA, and State Department documents I obtained for my new non-fiction book, Epicenter, reveal just how close Moscow has come in the past to attacking or even invading Israel and the oil-rich Gulf region, notably during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967, 1973 and 1982. In 1973, for example, Soviet statements and preparations for an attack against Israel led the Pentagon to order U.S. nuclear forces to the highest state of peacetime readiness. The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the 82nd Airborne Division to prepare to head to the Middle East, and additional U.S. naval forces -- including American aircraft carriers -- moved into the Mediterranean, all out of a real and rising concern that the Soviets were about to make an unprecedented military move against Israel. Eventually, as I detail in the book, such American countermeasures worked and the Soviets backed off. But they never gave up their dream of controlling the epicenter.
In 1982, Israeli forces battling PLO terrorists in southern Lebanon unexpectedly uncovered a secret but massive cache of Soviet weaponry in deep underground cellars and tunnels. The storehouses contained some 4,000 tons of ammunition, 144 armored vehicles and tanks, 12,500 pices of small arms, and 515 heavy weapons. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said that the Russians had prepositioned enough weapons to "equip not five brigades, but five or six [Soviet] divisions," adding that "we shall need literally thousands of trucks to evacuate these weapons from Lebanon."
Begin admitted how badly Israeli intelligence had failed in observing Moscow's preparations for war on Israel's northern border. "Something happened which nobody knew," Begin conceded. "[The] pre-positioning by the Soviet Union of such massive quantities of arms -- and I mean modern, highly sophisticated weapons -- could only be in preparation for some indeterminate future date to overrun Israel, then Jordan, and then Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf States. Otherwise, there is no explanation for the quantities of weapons we have found." When I interviewed Caspar Weinberger, the U.S. defense secretary in 1982 (I interviewed him just weeks before he passed away earlier this year), he both remembered and confirmed Begin's account for me. He also admitted that the discovery of the Soviet arms cache "was perhaps larger than most people [in Washington] would have expected," though it was consistent with President Reagan's concerns about Moscow's designs on controlling the oil-rich Middle East.
Given past Russian ambitions in the region, and recent moves Putin has made to join the Axis of Evil, I don't trust the Kremlin's intentions in the Mideast for one minute. Washington and Jerusalem shouldn't either. CRO