Senior Israeli defense officials say that Syria's offer last week to host Russian ballistic missiles was aimed at coercing the US to get behind indirect Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
The officials told Israel National News that Russia has no intention at present of placing missiles in Syria or of selling Damascus improved offensive weapons systems, but noted that the fact such issues were raised when Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Moscow had farther-reaching intentions.
The US could ill-afford Russian ballistic missiles stationed in Syria, an ally of Iran and a primary instigator of ongoing instability in neighboring Iraq. Damascus knows this and hoped by cozying up to Moscow to spur Washington to support rather than hinder Israeli-Syrian negotiations via Turkish mediators.
But the ruse may have backfired, according to a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, which quoted American diplomats as saying Assad's maneuver had resulted in the Bush Administration pressuring both Israel and Turkey to halt talks with Syria.
Syria demands that any deal with Israel must include the full surrender of the Golan Heights. Israel's current leadership has openly expressed willingness to meet those demands, at least in part, despite Syria's refusal to consider Israeli demands that it sever ties to Iran, Hizballah and Hamas.
Washington, however, has been less enthusiastic in the face of Syrian intransigence, and has refused to support the talks so long as Assad rejects concessions to Israel and the West.