'Drones sold to Russia could one day serve Hizbullah'

Israeli weapons expert says Moscow's attempts to gain foothold in the region include increased arms sales to Lebanon and Syria.

311_Panther UAV (photo credit: Courtesy of IAI)
311_Panther UAV
(photo credit: Courtesy of IAI)
Russia is trying to reassert itself as a global superpower and has increased its arms sales to Lebanon and Syria as a part of that effort, according to Yiftah Shapir, director of the military balance project at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Moscow is set to sell Syria the Yakhont land to sea missile – a part of the Bastion missile system – which has a range of between 300 kilometers, and would be a “game changer” if it fell into the hands of Syria’s ally, Hizbullah, Shapir told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
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“These missiles are supersonic, radar guided, and have additional navigational capabilities as they approach their target. They leave little time for response,” Shapir said. “The chances that it will end up in Lebanon are pretty high.
Shapir added that the advanced missile system would curtail the Israeli Navy’s freedom of operation around the Mediterranean, and enable Hizbullah to fire on warships near naval home ports like Haifa.
Russia has also offered Lebanon six combat Mi-24 helicopters, 30 T-72 tanks and 36 artillery guns.
“This has no military significance,” Shapir said. “In case of war, these things would not exist after 15 minutes. There is however a deep political significance – Russia wants a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean,” he added. Russia even offered Lebanon fighter jets, but Beirut politely declined, saying it had no pilots or facilities that were suitable for them.
For its part, Syria is revamping its port in the coastal city of Tartus in order to allow Russian warships to dock there, giving Russia a presence in the area it has not enjoyed in the 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But Moscow has not neglected its relationship with Jerusalem – Israel has been the only weapons exporter to sell arms to Russia since World War II, Shapir said, of the sale of Israeli UAVs to Russia in recent years.

At the same time, Shapir said, Russia is not planning on arming its military with Israeli weapons. “They want to copy the UAV technology and reproduce it. This was made clear during the sale,” he said.
“My greatest fear is that in the future, we could see this same UAV technology in the hands of enemies. This could reach Hizbullah, and that would change things. Russia has its own calculations,” Shapir added. “Personally, I think it was a bad idea to sell them the UAVs.”