Russia sold advanced Yakhont antiship cruise missiles to Syrian President Bashar Assad, outfitted with an advanced guidance system that makes them more effective than the older version of the missile Russia sold to Syria, The New York Times cited two American officials as saying on Thursday.

These missiles will allow Syria to thwart any attempt by international forces to reinforce Syrian rebels by imposing a naval embargo or no fly zone, Nick Brown the editor in chief of IHS Jane's International Defense Review told The New York Times

“It enables the regime to deter foreign forces looking to supply the opposition from the sea, or from undertaking a more active role if a no-fly zone or shipping embargo were to be declared at some point,” Brown said, “It’s a real ship killer,” he added.

According to the Times report, Syria ordered the coastal defense version of the Yakhont system from Russia in 2007 and received the first units in early 2011.

Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official, told the Times that by strengthening Syria's arsenal Russia was signalling its "commitment to the Syrian government."

In a separate report on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal cited US and European officials as saying that Russia sent at least a dozen warships to its Tartus naval base in Syria, in a move partly meant to send a message to Israel and the West not to intervene militarily in the country.

"It is a show of force. It's muscle flexing," the Journal quoted a senior US defense official as saying. "It is about demonstrating their commitment to their interests."

Facing international criticism for his country's decision to sell the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday contended that the arms deal would not alter the balance of power in the region.

During a meeting in Sochi, Russia with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Lavrov was quoted by AFP as saying "this does not in any way alter the balance of forces in this region or give any advantage in the fight against the opposition."

Lavrov claimed that Russia's arms deals with Syria do not violate international agreements. "I do not understand why the media is trying to create a sensation out of this," AFP quoted him as saying.

"We have not hidden that we supply weapons to Syria under signed contracts, without violating any international agreements, or our own legislation," he added.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni  on Friday criticized Russia for sending arms to the Syrian regime, stating that "the transfer of arms to Syria is clearly not positive and does not contribute to the stability of the region," according to AFP.

"Israel has the right to defend itself," AFP quoted Livni as saying.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a summit in Sochi on Tuesday not to sell the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

Israeli officials declined to comment on Lavrov’s latest interview, which appeared to contradict a statement he made last week that Russia would not sell the S-300 advanced air defense system to Syria.  

Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger