Russia Warns Israel to Be Wary of Conflict With Syria

Russian National Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov warned last week during a visit to Israel that the tense cease-fire between Jerusalem and Damascus might escalate into war if the two parties mutually miscalculate their strength.

Ivanov raised the issue during his visit to Israel as part of a delegation of Russian officials here to engage in strategic discussions with Israeli officials. National Security Council Head Ilan Mizrahi responded by saying that the fact that Russia was supplying Syria with modern weapons and missiles might encourage it to miscalculate its strength. Mizrahi added that delivering weapons to Syria would also undermine regional stability.

Ivanov replied that Russia was supplying both Iran and Syria with defensive weapon systems only. He went on to tell the Israeli delegation that Syrian President Bashar Assad was genuinely interested in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel.

"As I told you in November, you will find a partner in Assad," he said, adding that Russia supported the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

As for the Iranian nuclear program, Ivanov said Russia would not allow the Islamic republic to arm itself with nuclear weapons. "A nuclear Iran would threaten Russia, too," he said.

Ivanov reiterated this statement during his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The danger attached to the Iranian nuclear program must not be downplayed, "but it should not be exaggerated either," Ivanov said.

He added that diplomatic talks to resolve the crisis revolving the Iranian nuclear effort have not been exhausted, and that there was "still much to be done in that respect." Ivanov also relayed Russia's apprehensions regarding a possible joint American-Israeli military strike against Iran.

Several members of the Israeli delegation disagreed with the assessments of their Russian counterparts regarding the issue.

Regarding Moscow's connection with Hamas, Ivanov said Russia's balanced stance on the Middle East enabled it to serve as an acceptable mediator for all parties. Ivanov added that Russia was interested in assisting the government of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The delegation included high-ranking officers. In addition to Ivanov and other Russian Security Council members, the deputy chief of the Russian intelligence service and his counterpart in the Russian internal security intelligence organization were there. In addition, it included the Russian foreign ministry's Middle East department head and a defense ministry department head. The Russian delegation communicated with the Israeli hosts through two interpreters from Russia who spoke fluent Hebrew.

The Russian delegation met with representatives of the Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Corps and other defense establishment officials.

Among the other officials present were delegates from the defense and foreign ministries and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. The discussions between the Israeli and Russian delegations lasted two days. The parties have agreed to hold another session in the future, scheduled to take place in Moscow.