Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Israel: Russia may be selling Syria arms

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Fearing that Damascus is acquiring advanced military platforms, Israel is closely following meetings being held in Moscow this week between a high-level Syrian military delegation and Russian Defense Ministry officials.

Senior government officials in Jerusalem said they have been aware for several days of the Syrians' upcoming visit to the Russian capital but that it was not yet clear which military platforms Damascus was requesting.

According to reports in the Russian media, the delegation, led by Syrian Air Force commander Gen. Akhmad al-Ratyb, will be in Moscow for five days and meet with Russian Defense Ministry and Air Force officials, as well as visit several military bases and units.

According to the reports, the talks will focus on arms sales - including submarines, anti-aircraft missiles, the latest model MiG fighter jets and advanced surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

Israel is particularly concerned with a Syrian request for long-range S-300 surface-to-air missiles that could threaten IAF jets flying on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.

The S-300 is one of the best multi-target anti-aircraft-missile systems in the world and reportedly can track 100 targets simultaneously while engaging 12 at the same time. Syria recently received 36 Pantsir S1E air-defense systems from Russia. Iran is believed to have already procured several S-300 systems to protect its nuclear facilities.

Israeli defense officials expressed grave concern over the possibility that Syria would obtain these new military platforms. Damascus, the officials said, had dramatically increased defense spending recently. In the past three years, Syria has spent more than $3 billion on weapons, up from less than $100 million in 2002.

Officials said that Israel was working diplomatically with Moscow to prevent the sales, but that for the right amount of money, Russia would likely approve the sales in any case.

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