Russian plan to sell arms to Syria alarms Israel, US

Defense official warns of danger weapons will be used against Israel; Ahmadinejad stops in Damascus on way to UN.

iranian missile 311 (photo credit: AP)
iranian missile 311
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli and US officials are extremely concerned by Friday’s report that Russia intends to sell advanced weapons to Syria, including anti-ship rockets that could pose a major threat to Israel Navy ships if transferred to Hizbullah.
A defense source told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night there was a danger that these weapons, which include P-800 Yakhont cruise missiles, could be used against Israel.
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According to the source, Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke against the sale with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov when he visited them in Moscow last week. Barak told them that the weapons could end up with Hizbullah, as has happened in the past.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, four Israeli sailors were killed when Hizbullah hit the Israel Navy missile boat Hanit with a Chinese-made surface-to-sea missile that had been sold to Iran and made its way to Hizbullah.
State Department officials said on Friday that the US had been in touch with Russia about the planned deal.
“US opposition to arms sales to state sponsors of terrorism is well known,” said one State Department official who was asked to comment.
The official added that the US had been consulting with foreign governments about these and similar sales that have caused alarm.
Barak likely to discuss deal on trip to Washington
The Russian arms sale to Syria is likely to come up during talks that Barak will hold with US officials during his visit to Washington on Monday.
Russia has not been daunted by Israeli and US objections to the deal. Serdyukov indicated on Friday, while on a visit to Washington, that Moscow would go ahead with the arms contract, which was formulated in 2007.
According to the RIANovosti news agency, Serdyukov said the issue of missile sales to Syria had been raised during talks with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and that “undoubtedly, the Russian side of the contract would be fulfilled.”
He added that he did not believe terrorists could acquire the weapons.
Sergei Prikhodko, a senior adviser to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, told RIA-Novosti that Moscow would fulfill all agreements it had made with other countries.
Separately on Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria and met there with his counterpart, Bashar Assad.
The meeting came two days after Assad sat down with the US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell in Damascus to discuss starting Syria-Israel peace talks.
Washington, Teheran battle for influence in Syria
The back-to-back trips underscored the battle for influence in Syria between Washington and Teheran. Seeking to isolate Iran, US President Barack Obama has tried – unsuccessfully – to pry Syria away from its alliance with the Islamic Republic.
Speaking in Damascus, Ahmadinejad appeared to brush aside US efforts to forge a peace deal between Israel and its neighbors.
He warned that countries in the region would “disrupt” American and Israeli plans to introduce change to the Middle East, but did not elaborate.
“Those who want to change the political geography of the region must know that they will have no place in the future of the region,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Iran’s state-run news agency, IRNA. “The waves of free nations to join this resistance are spreading every day.”
Ahmadinejad said before his visit to Syria that he and Assad would discuss key areas of conflict and tension in the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He also told Iranian state TV on Friday that he and Assad would discuss “the Westerners’ moves in the region,” an apparent reference to the United States.
“We have to be ready and in harmony,” he said in an interview, without elaborating.
The US began reaching out to Syria soon after Obama took office in January 2009, and has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year, including nominating the first US ambassador to Syria since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad.
Mitchell said during his visit to Damascus on Thursday that the US was determined to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and that the administration’s efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict did not conflict with making peace between Israel and Syria.
Syria and Iran are both under US pressure because of their support for anti-Israel terrorist groups. The US also accuses Syria of secret nuclear activities.
The two leaders stressed the need for Iraqi politicians to overcome disputes that have delayed the formation of a new government there after national elections in March, according to Syria’s state news agency, SANA.
Ahmadinejad also called the new Israeli- Palestinian peace talks a failure, according to Iran’s state-run Press TV. He said Israel had no place in the future of the region.
The Iranian president was also to stop in Algeria before heading to New York.

Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report