Putin's Velvet Fist

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Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a historic visit to Israel this week, but the trip served as a reminder of Russia's continuing ties to Iran and Syria, and Moscow's determination to go forward with military-related deals that would make those rogue regimes more dangerous. The most troubling news about Mr. Putin's trip to Israel was his unwillingness to yield on strengthening military ties with Syria and Moscow's ongoing support for Iran's nuclear-weapons infrastructure.

In an interview last week with Israel's Channel One television, Mr. Putin effectively dismissed Washington and Jerusalem's concerns about Iran's military buildup by suggesting that efforts to put restraints on Tehran would not be helpful. The Russian leader also rejected Israel's concerns, which have strong bipartisan backing in Washington, about Moscow's sales to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime - which is working to destroy Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations by supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.

Asked during the same interview about the sale of SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, Mr. Putin defended the sale on grounds that they would make it more difficult for Israeli planes to buzz Mr. Assad's palace - a form of psychological warfare used to deter the Syrian dictator by reminding him of Israel's superiority in the skies. Israel is also concerned about the likelihood that Syria would transfer those missiles to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. …