Israel is trying to prevent an arms deal between Russia and Syria, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to stop the arms sale involving advanced anti-shipping missiles.
The deal involves the sale of advanced P-800 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles to the Syrian military. Israel considers this weaponry capable of posing significant danger to its navy vessels in the Mediterranean Sea.
In a conversation with Putin, Netanyahu told the Russian leader that missiles his country had delivered to Syria were then transferred to Hezbollah and used against IDF troops during the Second Lebanon War.
Meanwhile, Ehud Barak is scheduled to travel to Moscow for what will be the first-ever visit by an Israeli Defense Minister to the Russian capital, where he plans to discuss the matter with his host, Anatoly Serdyukov.
A senior Israeli official who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said Israel and Russia have been engaged in discreet dialogue over arms deals to the region.
But as these talks have not yielded any results, the decision was made to upgrade the level of discussions with a senior political figure.
"We have been working on such a visit for more than a year and it is very important to us," the official said.
As the Russian Defense Ministry is considered to be overwhelmingly pro-Arab, the opportunity for an Israeli Defense Minister to make an official visit is considered a historic development.
Netanyahu called Putin on Friday, after a long period of time in which the two had not communicated. The prime minister updated his Russian counterpart on the direct talks with the Palestinians that are expected to begin next week, and some of the conversation centered on the arms deal with Syria.
In addition to Syria's transfer of advanced Russian anti-tank missiles to Hezbollah, Netanyahu also mentioned the incident in which Syrian-acquired Chinese-made C-802 anti-shipping missiles were used by Hezbollah to target an Israeli destroyer. He expressed Israel's concern that the new missiles from Russia will also make their way to Hezbollah.
The latest arms deal was first reported in the foreign press in late 2009, and is said to include P-800 missiles which now come in models that can be launched from land.
The highly accurate missiles have a maximum range of 300 kilometers and carry a 200-kilogram warhead. The weapon's unique feature is its ability to cruise several meters above the surface, making it difficult to identify on radar and therefore intercept.
The C-802 missiles currently in the Syrian arsenal have a range of 120 kilometers, carry a smaller warhead and lack the accuracy of the more advanced missiles.
Israel's defense analysts are concerned that these missiles in the hands of Hezbollah would pose a serious threat to Israel Navy ships operating out of the Haifa port, and possibly also out of Ashdod.