Israel Warns Russia to Halt Arms Sales to Iran, Syria

by Jason Ditz, September 10, 2008

In an interview with the Washington Times, Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor warned Russia that selling armaments to Syria and Iran is “destabilizing and dangerous for Israel and for peace in the region”.

After Syrian President Bashar Assad expressed support for Russia in last month’s Georgia conflict, Russia expressed a willingness to sell further arms to Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assured that the sales would be strictly of “a defensive character”. The move is seen by some as retaliation for Israel’s strong military ties to Georgia.

Another ongoing concern for Israel is Iran’s rumored acquisition of Russia’s highly advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system. Though Iran has denied purchasing the system, and the Pentagon has said they don’t expect Iran to acquire it “any time soon,” Israel has continually warned Russia about the potential sale. Last month, they threatened to develop an “electronic warfare device” which would neutralize the system, which is also the backbone of Russia’s air defense.

Russia has been critical of Israel’s role in arming Georgia before their attack on South Ossetia. Ambassador Meridor sees no reason why this should be, saying “I don’t see why anybody would perceive our relationship with Georgia to be in any way threatening or destabilizing”.

But between providing arms to the Georgian military which were used in an attack on a separatist enclave in which more than half of residents held Russian citizenship, providing that military with training which a Georgian Minister publicly credited with the destruction of an entire Russian military division, and a reported agreement between the two nations which would have allowed Israeli bombers to use Georgian airfields in an attack on an Iranian nuclear plant being built by a Russian state-run company, it seems clear Russia does perceive a threat.

Russia says it views any arms sales to Georgia as unacceptable, and a Russian embassy spokesman said they “would like to see that country demilitarized”. Yesterday, Russia presented a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council which called for an arms embargo against Georgia.

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