U.S. Shares Israel's Worry Over Russia Arms Sale to Syria

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells visiting Defense Minister Ehud Barak that U.S. is also concerned about Russian plans to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told visiting Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday that he shared Israeli concerns about Russian plans to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.

In a private meeting, Gates told Barak he was concerned "about proliferation of advanced weapons that could destabilize the region."

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Syria signed a deal to buy P-800 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles from Russia in 2007. Barak traveled to Moscow this month to seal a military cooperation pact and urge the Russians not to supply Syria with arms that could challenge Israel's might.

Israeli leaders have said the sale poses a major threat to Israel because Syria backs the Lebanese Hezbollah, which has used Russian-made weapons against Israel in the past.

Morrell said that Gates also raised the issue with a Russian delegation visiting the Pentagon last week. When asked for specifics, Morrell would say only that Gates asked his Kremlin counterparts to be mindful of the strategic consequences of such sales.

Syria denies arming Hezbollah, which also enjoys Iranian backing. Hezbollah surprised Israel by hitting one of its naval vessels with a cruise missile during the 2006 Lebanon war.

Israel and Syria have exchanged peace overtures in recent years but remain divided over core demands regarding the future of the Golan Heights and the Damascus-Tehran alliance.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that despite intensive diplomacy, Israel had failed to dissuade Russia from selling the advanced missiles to Syria.

Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told ministers that Russian plans to go ahead with the delivery of P-800 anti-ship missiles to Syria was "problematic" for Israel.

"To our regret, the deal is now proceeding in stages," Netanyahu said, adding that the Syrian missiles were part of the reason behind Israel's recent decision to upgrade its air force with new American F-35 warplanes.

"We are dealing with a new arsenal of missiles and rockets and there has to be a military response to that," he said.