Russia returns to the Middle East

by our Arab Affairs correspondent

BACK IN 1977 President Anwar Sadat of Egypt famously claimed that the United States held “99 per cent of the cards” in the Middle East. The Arab traitor, of course, was saying this to justify his break with the Soviet Union and his crawling to the Americans to get US aid. Sadat betrayed the Palestinians and his Syrian allies and signed a surrender peace with Israel at Camp David in 1978.

Sadat paid with his life for handing Egypt over to US imperialism. He was gunned down by Islamic fundamentalists during a military parade in 1981. But the Arab masses continued to pay a heavy price for US hegemony in the Arab world long after the Egyptian traitor’s death.

The Arabs paid an even heavier price after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. While the Russian bear slept US imperialism attacked and eventually overthrew the Iraqi government. US-led imperialism invaded Libya for the benefit of the big oil corporations and two years ago the Americans, backed by their oil prince allies and Israel, tried to do the same to Syria. But times are changing and Russia is returning to the Middle East big time.

After the Libyan debacle Russia vowed that it would never allow itself to be tricked into supporting false-flag interventions at the United Nations ever again. Vladimir Putin’s government has since taken a robust stance against imperialist intervention in Syria and the Kremlin has played a pivotal role in kick-starting international talks to resolve the Iranian nuclear power issue.

And last week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Egypt to resume large scale military co-operation with the new army-led government that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi earlier in the year.

Morsi was a covert ally of US imperialism which had been seeking to strengthen its grip on the Middle East through an alliance with the Brotherhood and other Islamic fundamentalist movements across the Arab world. When Morsi was kicked out by the army following mass anti-Brotherhood protests in Cairo and across the country the Americans demanded his reinstatement. When that failed they froze most of their military aid. Egypt has now returned to an old friend to fill the gap.

Russia is ready to supply Egypt with modern MiG warplanes, helicopters and air-defence systems in a package worth up to $4 billion. Some contracts were signed last week and others are still being discussed while Egypt seeks loans from Saudi Arabia and Russia itself to pay for the military hardware. Osama El-Dalil, a political analyst at Al-Ahram al-Arabi weekly magazine said that the visit showed the determination of both sides to build real strategic cooperation they failed to achieve over the last 40 years.

“For the last four decades, Egypt’s alliance with the United States has prevented it from developing strategic relations with other powers such as Russia, but today Egypt is not going to repeat the same mistake as Egypt now vies for real partnership relations,” he said.

Restoring the balance of power in the Middle East may also help the Palestinians, or at least those who administer the “autonomous” zones inside the Israeli occupied West Bank, currently engaged in yet another futile round of US-sponsored talks with the Zionist authorities.

Over 20 per cent of Israel’s Jewish population have come from Russia and the former Soviet Union. Some still hold Russian passports Many turned up to greet Putin when he went to Israel in 2005 and last year the Russian leader returned to unveil a victory monument to the Red Army soldiers who died fighting the Nazis in the Second World War.

Trade between Israel and Russia is increasing, and Russian tourists are second only to Americans in number, though many of them come only for daytrips from Turkey or cruise liners. In February, Gazprom, the giant Russian state-owned oil and gas corporation won a key 20- year deal to supply Israel with liquefied natural gas. This week Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu is in Moscow for talks in the Kremlin.

Netanyahu last visited Russia in May for emergency talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss the situation in Syria with Putin. Iran is top of the list this time round but Syria and the ongoing talks with the Palestinian Authority are also on the agenda.

Russia has always supported the Palestinian Authority and its quest for an independent Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip state. When Putin held talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last year he pointed out that “We [recognised Palestine] 25 years ago, and our position has not changed.

“Palestinian leadership and the president personally, have been behaving responsibly to achieve peace based on the two-state solution,” Putin declared.

No doubt the Russian leader will make these points to Netanyahu in Moscow. The Russians are certainly better placed to play honest broker than the Americans, whose efforts are little more than a public relations exercise to appease the Arab oil lords of the Gulf who still pay lip-service to the Palestinian cause.

“Like Israel, the feudal Arab states are little more than US protectorates. But Israel has more room to manoeuvre and Russia has more economic and political leverage in the Middle East these days. Netanyahu will certainly listen to Putin. What he does next remains to be seen.