'Russia confirms MiG jet sale to Syria'
Head of Russian aircraft corporation says advanced fighter jets are being supplied to Damascus.
The Russian daily newspaper Kommersant has reported that Russia is expected to provide Syria with powerful MiG fighter jets but has not yet begun delivering the planes.
The paper cited the head of Russia's state-run United Aircraft Corporation, Alexei Fyodorov, as saying that a 2007 contract to sell MiG-31E interceptor fighters to Syria has not entered into force, but that a different contract to provide Syria with MiG-29M fighters is indeed being implemented.
According to the paper, Russian arms sales officials denied the 2007 contract.
The speedy MiG-31E can fire simultaneously at several targets up to 180 kilometers away. Delivered into Syria's hands, it would likely alter the balance of power in the region.
Reports of the sale had surfaced in 2007 but were quickly dismissed by Moscow and its official state arms-trading monopoly Rosoboronexport, which issued a statement saying, "Russia has no plans to deliver fighter jets to Syria."
Rosoboronexport declined to comment on the recent Kommersant article.
In May, outgoing head of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency Lt.-Gen. Michael D. Maples told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Damascus would be receiving the advanced MiG-31E fighter jets in the near future.
"With regard to its external defense, Syria's military remains in a defensive posture and inferior to Israel's forces, but it is upgrading its missile, rocket, antitank, aircraft and air defense inventories," Maples told the committee. "Recent Syrian contracts with Russia for future delivery include new MiG-31 and MiG-29M/M2 fighter aircraft."
Israeli defense officials said they were not surprised by Russia's intention to sell Syria the advanced jets but expressed concern that if the deal went through it would alter the balance of power in the region.
"Syria currently has an obsolete air force based on outdated MiGs," one official explained. "If Syria gets new MiG-31s, this will pose a definite threat to our air force."