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Russian Offensive Hailed in Mideast

Especially with Assad's visit to Moscow, Russians are signaling that there is more they can do to undermine U.S. policies, Leverett said.

Syrian officials this week denied reports in Russian news media that Assad had sought Russian ballistic missiles on his visit to Moscow and had offered to host a Russian naval post again, as Syria did in the Cold War to ward off any attack by Israel.

Iranian officials, mindful of a possible U.S. or Israeli strike, also have voiced hopes of obtaining Russia's most advanced antiaircraft missile systems.

In Israel and the United States, there is "definitely rising concern Russia may go ahead and deliver those systems as a way of further indicating how unhappy it is with U.S. policy," Leverett said.

Russia, however, also has been building relations and trade with Israel, and has denied selling its most advanced systems to Syria or Iran. Syria itself is in indirect peace talks with Israel. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that Russia was ready to sell Syria arms of a "defensive character that do not violate the strategic balance of power in the Middle East."

Israel said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert planned to travel to Russia to discuss any Syria-Russia arms deals, amid statements from Israeli officials that the arms could be used to bolster Syrian ally Hezbollah.

Middle East governments have experience with Russian-made weapons, which haven't worked so well, said Abdel-Moneim Said, director of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. Egyptians still blame their defeats in wars against Israel partly on their Russian-supplied weapons.

Many Arab analysts initially cheered Russia's flexing of its military muscles. An opinion piece in the United Arab Emirates-based Gulf News called it "long overdue." Editorials in some Arab news media this week and last expressed second thoughts, questioning whether Russia has the stability, surety of purpose or strength to be a leader among countries.

"All that ended up to be a kind of nostalgia, or looking for a new kind of Cold War, when there was not only one, single power dominating the world, the United States, and its ally, Israel," Said said.

Now, "there's a realization that Russia has a lot of interests with the West. Also that Russia is still a limited power," he said. "It's no match. There is no new Cold War coming."


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