Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Bear's creeping influence

Bear paws are increasingly spotted on the Middle Eastern map these days. Today's announced decision by Russia to supply the Lebanese army with 10 Mig-29 fighters jets is a gesture of little military importance, but large geopolitical significance.


For one, this points to a further deterioration of relations between Israel and Russia. Both countries have - directly or indirectly - been supplying one another's enemy in recent years (Hezballah by Russia, the pro-American Georgian government by Israel).

Secondly, the move is yet another sign of the decline of American influence in the broader region. If we go back to the domestic turmoil that was witnessed it Lebanon following the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, the story becomes clearer. The Americans effectively lost the battle for Lebanon when the Hezballah-led March 9th coalition was granted veto power in the legislature as part of the broader reconciliation efforts brokered in Qatar last May. The Lebanese government, now with a strong anti-American presence in its fold, is in the process of realigning its strategic relationships.

Thirdly, Russia is a resurgent power looking to reestablish its lost prestige in the region. It has been on increasingly close terms with the Assad government in Damascus, and is looking to capitalize on improving relations between Lebanon and Syria to make inroads into Beirut.

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