Israel Asks Russia Not to Sell Syria Missiles
JERUSALEM – The planned sale of advanced Russian missiles to Syria will disrupt regional stability and Moscow should call off the deal, Israel's foreign minister said Thursday.
Israel fears that the shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles could fall into the hands of Lebanese guerrillas and be aimed at Israeli targets.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (search) was the first official to confirm publicly that Israel has asked Russia to halt the deal, which has clouded Israel-Russia relations.
"We turned to the Russians and asked that they not complete this deal," Shalom said. "Syria is a country that supports terror and is supplying [Lebanese] Hezbollah (search) with weapons nonstop."
The sale "will disrupt regional stability and won't improve the chances for peace," Shalom said.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana (search), warned the sale could disrupt Mideast peace efforts and he urged Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) to consider its implications. He noted that Russia is among the international backers of the "road map" peace initiative.
"I trust that President Putin will not do anything that will go against the stability of the region, which is as much an interest for him as it is an interest for us," Solana said after a meeting with Shalom in Tel Aviv.
The deal for the sale of advanced Igla SA-18 missiles (search) was signed a few days ago, officials said. Experts said the anti-aircraft missiles could endanger frequent Israeli flights over Lebanon and on the Israeli side of the border.
David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said: "The reports in this regard are very disturbing and, as in other cases with strategic implications, we conduct an ongoing dialogue with the administration."
Relations between Israel and Russia had been steadily improving since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is of Russian descent, has visited Moscow three times since taking office in 2001.
He repeatedly has asked Putin to act against what Israel contends is a covert Iranian nuclear arms program and to pressure Syria to rein in its Lebanese and Palestinian proxies.
A deputy Russian foreign minister is in the region to discuss the missile issue, Israeli officials said on condition of anonymity.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Russian-Israeli ties were sound.
"As regards military-technical cooperation with Middle East governments, Russia strictly follows generally accepted regulations and is in accordance with international agreements directed at preventing the destabilizing accumulation of weapons," Yakovenko said in statement Wednesday.
Syrian President Bashar Assad is due to visit Russia Jan. 24-28.