Israel to Russia: Reconsider Syria arms deal in light of Mideast turmoil
Russia plans to press ahead with plans to sell two surface-to-air rocket units armed with missiles to Damascus in a deal worth 300 million dollars; Israel fears weapons could fall into hands of Hezbollah.
Jerusalem has urged Moscow to review its plans to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, Israel's ambassador to Russia was quoted as saying on Sunday, amid heightened fears the arms could fall into the hands of militants.
Russia, the world's second largest arms exporter, said in February it would press ahead with plans to sell two surface-to-air rocket units armed with P-800, or 'Yakhont', missiles to Damascus in a deal worth 300 million dollars.
Israel fears the missiles, capable of hitting ships 300 km (190 miles) off Syria's coast, could end up in the hands of Lebanese guerilla group Hezbollah.
"Moscow should reassess the risks of possible arms supplies to Damascus, with the country rocked by popular uprisings and instability across the Middle East," Israel's Ambassador to Russia Dorit Golender told Interfax news agency.
At least 60 people have been killed in a crackdown by Syrian authorities on mass protests against the Baath Party rule, which erupted in the southern city of Daraa more than two weeks ago.
"We believe, that in this context there is a necessity to review all the risks and the degree of likelihood of negative consequences [that the supplies may incur]," Golender said.
The ambassador added that the issue was raised during talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Moscow on March 24.
Hezbollah used a surface to air missile in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War to hit the INS Hanit warship, killing four sailors. Russia maintains a naval base in Syria.
Moscow delivered Bastion anti-ship missiles to Syria in 2010 despite protests from Israel.
Syria, bordered by Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, is in the thick of the Middle East conflict, maintaining an anti-Israel alliance with Iran and supporting militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, despite seeking a peace deal with Israel and an end of U.S. sanctions imposed on Syria in 2004.
Moscow's arms contract portfolio was estimated at 45 billion dollars at the end of last year, including 15 billion dollars in contracts signed in 2010 alone, as Russia's arms exports were expected to stay at levels of 10 billion dollars a year until at least 2014, leading military think tank CAST said in February.