For the first time since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia plans to re-operate the Tartus and Latakia ports in Syria
as permanent bases for the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean basin, according to recent western media reports.
Rumors on the growing Russian activity in the Mediterranean began spreading following a statement by Russian Navy commander, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, as he visited the Russian Navy base in the Sebastopol port in Ukraine.
"Being present in the Mediterranean is very important for our Navy in the Black Sea," the admiral said.
The Qatar-based television network al-Jazeera quoted a senior Russian Defense Ministry official over the weekend, who declared that Russia must be permanently present in the Mediterranean again.
According to the reports, Syria plans to let Russia use its ports as part of the large arms deal signed between the two countries in the past year.
The breakthrough which led to the arms deal was made possible after the two parties resolved their financial differences.
Over the years, Syria had accumulated a huge debt of approximately $11 billion to Russia. The Russians recently conceded more than 70% of the debt. The remaining debt will be returned by Syria partly in cash and partly through permanent port services to the Russian Navy ships in Latkia and Tartus.
Israeli security officials estimated that the renewed Russian activity in these bases, which were active throughout the Cold War, was related to the renewed tensions between Russia and the United States, mainly in light of the American plan to station antimissile missile systems in Europe – a plan Moscow views as a threat to its security.
"The bases will allow Russia to protect its interests in the region," the sources estimated.
While US naval forces are permanently present in the Mediterranean, Russian Navy ships have so far settled for exercises and friendly visits to different countries in the region.
Since the Soviet Union's disintegration the Russian Navy has been experiencing a crisis, but in the past two years efforts have been made to rehabilitate the warships and the submarines.
The Russian Navy is known to massively operate spy ships.
Israeli officials estimated on Sunday that a renewed base in Syria will help the Russians carry out spy missions also against Israel,
particularly electronic spying aimed at observing new weapon systems and the flow of information in channels used by the army and the defense establishment.