Israel: Paying a Visit to Poland and the Czech Republic
Stratfor Today »
October 12, 2009 | 1445 GMT
U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Getty Images
U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell (L) and Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak (R) on Oct. 7
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is leaving late Oct. 12 for meetings in Poland and the Czech Republic, Ynet reported. Details on this previously unannounced trip are scarce, but according to the report, Baraks meetings will focus on the issues of Irans nuclear program as well as military industries.
This is a meeting of critical significance given current tensions between Russia and the United States on the one hand, and a building crisis with Iran on the other. Central Europe sits in the middle of an ongoing U.S.-Russian geopolitical tussle, in which Russia has clear-cut demands for Washington to downgrade its military alliances with Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia intends to enforce these demands by hanging the threat of critical military and economic assistance to Iran over Israel and the United States.
Israel and the United States understand Russias leverage over Iran, which is the main driver behind U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clintons visit to Moscow beginning Oct. 12, where she will meet Oct. 13 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Dmitri Medvedev in hopes of securing a Russian guarantee to back off support for Iran.
But Russia is not about to give up its Iran card for free in these negotiations. When Clinton arrives in Moscow, the Russians will watch and wait to see if the U.S. administration is prepared to come forth with concessions that clearly recognize Russias sphere of influence in the former Soviet periphery. The United States recently made a move to soften up the Russians in these negotiations when it decided publicly to back down from an original ballistic missile defense (BMD) plan that would have placed U.S. military installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, ostensibly to guard against a potential Iranian ballistic missile threat.
This may have been a notable tilt to Moscow on the surface, but the Russians are not convinced of the sincerity of this move and are still not getting very warm signals from Washington. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania Oct. 20-24 to reassert U.S. support for these critical states, which sit on the Russian periphery. Moreover, STRATFOR has picked up on a number of indications from the Central Europeans that the United States has little intention of even backing down from the original BMD plan.
Israel feels the urgency on the Iran issue and has a strategic interest in creating as much distance between Moscow and Tehran as possible, especially as Russia has made it a point to reiterate its support for Iran in recent weeks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently made a secret, yet heavily publicized trip to Moscow in an attempt to negotiate with the Russian leadership over Iran. At that meeting, Russia demanded that Israel back off from military assistance to Georgia and Ukraine, but also made clear that any Russian-Israeli bargain over Iran would require the United States to first negotiate seriously with Moscow. Evidently, that meeting did not leave Israel very satisfied. Barak is thus likely following up Netanyahus visit to Russia with this trip to Central Europe as a warning to Russia: If Russia continues to threaten critical support to Iran, Israel can reciprocate in the Russian periphery by offering strategic military-technological cooperation to Poland and the Czech Republic and by reigniting the discussion over BMD.
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