Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Israel Upset Over Russian Missile Sale to Syria

Israel on Sept. 19 denounced as irresponsible the reported sale by Russia of P-800 Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria, saying it could threaten the strategic balance in the region.

News of the sale emerged Sept. 17 when Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters in Washington that Moscow would fulfill a 2007 contract to supply Yakhont cruise missiles to Damascus, Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

The sale, worth at least $300 million, will see Syria receiving around 72 cruise missiles, Interfax news agency reported Sept. 19, citing defense industry sources.

"This decision translates into a very poor demonstration of responsibility by a country which sees itself as influential and which claims to act in favor of regional stability," a senior Israeli government official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"These weapons could affect the strategic balance in a fragile region which has only just begun peace negotiations," he said, referring to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians which began Sept. 2.

Syria and Israel remain technically in a state of war, and Russia's arms sales and possible nuclear cooperation with Damascus, which has close ties to Iran, is unnerving for Washington and Tel Aviv.

Israel is also concerned that such weapons could be transferred to Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, but Russia's defense minister said such fears were unjustified.

"The U.S. and Israel ask us not to supply Syria with Yakhont," he was quoted as saying Sept. 17. "But we do not see the concerns expressed by them, that these arms will fall into the hands of terrorists."

Russian weapons sales to Damascus provoked Israeli ire in May after Moscow said it was supplying Syria with MiG-29 fighter jets, Pantsir short-range air defense systems and armored vehicles.

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