Russia creates Third world opposition to the West, a giant peripheral conflict. The Western hemisphere is burning from Brazil to Mexico. Socialist regimes are springing to power like they did thirty years ago. Western and Eastern Europe are addicted to Russia’s gas pipeline. Far smarter and more aggressive than the Saudis, the Russians use their energy reserves as an empire-building tool, and it is no less effective than their military tools. The North Korean axis of evil is trifling compared to the rogue energy axis of Russia, Iran, Algiers, and Venezuela. Oil- and gas-rich economic dwarfs like Algeria, Iran, and Venezuela buy cheap Russian weapons to boost their rulers’ egos. Quantitatively, Russia far outsells the US (although America is still the largest arms supplier in dollar terms). Russia is a country of individual geniuses but lackluster industry; it cannot build consistently good, complex systems. Russia’s best-selling MIG-29 planes, for example, are perfect in dogfights and incorporate some top-of-the-line features, but their shortcomings—insufficient range and low engine quality, among others—prevent their use as a strategic fleet. Russian weapons, though indigenous and sometimes excellent, are inferior to high-tech American weaponry. Russian arms sales, accordingly, go predominantly to the Third World, whose countries only expect to fight their equally barbaric neighbors. Thus Russia’s renewed military cooperation with Libya, Ethiopia, and Angola. In this vicious cycle, the dregs of the international community depend on Russia for cheap arms, and Russia stirs them up in order to sell more arms. The Russian policy is not very different from the American policy: recall, for example, how the US pushed its arms to Saudi Arabia in the 1990s; the problem is, figuratively speaking, that America is the respectable owner of an upscale liquor shop while Russia sells booze to drunkards. The drunkards’ dependency on the shop owner has turned into a political alignment with him.

Though Russian sales of aircraft are minuscule, and their sales of light arms are strategically unimportant, Russian defense systems bring to mind the revolver ad, “God created men; Colonel Colt made them equal.” It takes a dozen $1,000 rockets to destroy a $5 million tank. But in the endless offense-defense cycle, options always exist; Israel has a 98% effective Trophy anti-RPG system. Of course, Trophy doesn’t work that well in an urban environment, where it lacks enough time to react to flying projectiles, but then Israel doesn’t need to engage in urban battles; the Americans fire-bombed Tokyo instead of storming it. Besides, supplemental pain ray (millimeter wave) systems keep RPG operators at a sufficient distance for the Trophy to work. Russian defense missiles do, however, provide a perfect excuse for Israeli defeatists: Oh, how would we fight Syria’s Russian anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles? Tank losses in the Second Lebanon war prompted the government to announce its decision—which it claimed to have made earlier—to scrap Merkava production. Instead of avoiding urban warfare and refraining from sending tanks unsupported by helicopters, the Israeli establishment opts for the easiest choice: scrap expensive tanks and send cheap soldiers instead. The Russian missile threat is a perfect companion to the pressure from the US military-industrial complex for Israel to stop her military production lines. Trophy is the direct competitor to Raytheon’s Active Kill anti-RPG defense, and impedes the mammoth rearmament program of the Future Combat Systems. Merkava production frees Israel of the need to buy twice-as-expensive US Abrams tanks. Russian missile sales to Muslim countries, though of moderate significance strategically, unleash a rolling ball of corruption and political considerations.

To comply with international restrictions on rocket sales, Russia decreased the range of its SS-23 series to make a 280km-range Iskander-E missile. In regards to Israel, that is the equivalent of a strategic ballistic missile. When Russia asserts that it is in compliance with international controls on arms exports, that’s irrelevant for Israel. Russian Iskander-E missiles, with a 480kg payload of cluster bombs or with improved conventional munitions (high-power explosives,) are capable of striking any target in Israel within several meters’ precision. Reportedly, the Iskander missiles can bypass the Arrow-2 and Patriot defense systems deployed in Israel (astonishingly, Israel lacks SS-23 to test and adapt her missile defense against them). No less importantly, the Syrians can easily adapt the unique Russian navigational systems to their other needs.

Russia is re-arming itself with SS-27 (Topol-M) ICBM with multiple nuclear warhead (MIRV) whose primary target is the US. Russia claimed that the Start-II treaty that prohibited multiple nuclear warheads expired when America resumed work on a missile defense system. The US Administration evidently expected the cash-starved Russians to swallow the pill and do nothing. Instead, Russia sold some oil to the West and built ICBMs with the proceeds.

The SS-27 boasts the capability of bypassing American missile defenses. America, accordingly, has sought to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, creating a crisis with Russia. The number of new Russian ICBMs is still minuscule, but that number can swiftly expand, and those ICBMs constitute a clear threat.

To buy Russia off is impossible. That country won’t stop working on a $1 billion Bushehr reactor in Iran if the US compensates it for the lost profits. An opportunity to stir up a conflict is more important to Russia than money. But—money is more important to individual Russians. Much as the US brilliantly bribed Iraqi commanders before the invasion, it can bribe top bureaucrats in Russia’s security services. A billion dollars is nothing to Russia, but it is a meaningful amount to KGB/FSB bosses.

Containment is the only efficient policy to counter the Russian threat. If Russia delivers MIG-31 interceptors to Syria, then we must shoot the planes down when the Syrians them take out for training. Detected Panzir missile-defense radars? Use some anti-radar missiles immediately. Syria only needs these weapons to use against Israel, so why not take them out now instead of waiting for a war? Such a response would preempt a Russian-sponsored arms race in the Middle East. Again, that’s not a panacea; the proliferation of American weapons is no less dangerous. Nothing precludes Israel from similarly treating Arab weapons purchases from America; the UAE’s F-16s can be destroyed on the ground. At least the US doesn’t arm Syria or Iran.

America wants limited Russian involvement in the Middle East. This way, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will lean closer to America. The resulting arms race will bankrupt Israel.

Russia is not a Soviet-age military superpower. For all its recent increases in military spending, Russia purchases hardly $5 billion worth of new weapons annually, and cutting-edge weapons account for hardly a quarter of that amount. In purchasing-power-parity figures, that’s about $12-15 billion of Israeli spending on the more expensive, hi-tech American-style weapons. Israel was bogged down in Lebanon, as Russia was in Chechnya. The two armies are not incomparable in offense capabilities, and Israel need not give way to Russia’s bullying.

Israel will find it hard to contain Russian influence in the Middle East now, but containing armed-to-the-teeth Russian clients later will prove altogether impossible.