Israel opposes the planned Russian sale of advanced anti-ship missiles to arch-foe Syria and will lodge a protest with Moscow, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday.
The go-ahead for the US$300 million Yakhont cruise missile deal was announced last week by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who told state-run news agency RIA that it dated back to a 2007 contract and had met objections from the US.
“This [sale] complicates the situation. It does not contribute to stability and it does not create peace in the region. We will convey to Russia our position,” the Israel Hayom daily quoted Lieberman as saying.
Despite its fitful peace efforts with Syria, Israel remains mistrustful. Damascus backs Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and has made veiled threats about regaining the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
RIA on Friday quoted Serdyukov as saying the US feared the Yakhonts could end up in the hands of “terrorists” — an apparent reference to Hezbollah, which surprised Israel by hitting one of its warships with a cruise missile in a 2006 war.
Lieberman said that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who visited Moscow this month to sign a military cooperation pact, had “dealt with the [Yakhont] issue, but things didn’t work out.”
Russia, which is building up a fleet of Israeli-made drones, earlier pleased Israel by promising not to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran while new UN sanctions are in place.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday warned that the deal to sell Syria the missiles would be “very problematic” for the Jewish state.
“We have been aware of this deal for some time, and there were discussions with the Russians at every level,” Netanyahu told a closed meeting of Cabinet ministers from his Likud Party.
His comments were confirmed by a meeting participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
RIA said the P-800s have a range of 300km, carry a 200kg warhead and cruise just above the surface, making them difficult to detect and intercept.
Israeli officials say Hezbollah used Russian-made weapons obtained from Syria during the 2006 war, in which some 120 Israeli soldiers were killed. After the fighting, an Israeli delegation went to Moscow to complain about Hezbollah’s use of Russian-made anti-tank missiles. The Israelis brought what they said was conclusive evidence, such as serial numbers, to prove the weapons were Russian.
At the time, Russia said that any of its weapons obtained by Hezbollah came from third countries, not Russia or Syria.
Last week, Israel announced an arms deal of its own, giving final approval to the planned purchase of advanced F-35 stealth warplanes from the US.
Netanyahu called that deal “a significant step in strengthening the state of Israel’s military capabilities.” The first aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2015.
“This is one of our answers to the changing threats around us, to maintain our attack capabilities, along with other actions to improve both our defensive and offensive abilities in the decades to come,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet. “I think ... acquiring the most advanced plane in the world, more advanced than any plane in the area, is an important and significant step for the security of Israel.”