EXCLUSIVE: Russia urged to halt arms to Iran, Syria

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Israel’s envoy to the United States urged Russia on Tuesday not to sell advanced weapons to Iran and Syria despite Moscow’s anger over Israeli military cooperation with Georgia.

Ambassador Sallai Meridor also said that the main reason his government began indirect talks with Syria earlier this year was to “bring about a strategic repositioning” in the region by breaking up Damascus’ alliance with Iran.

Israel has developed close military relations with Georgia, supplying about $300 million in weapons last year, according to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. It is trying to juggle that support with its campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel regards as its main strategic threat.

Russia, which invaded Georgia last month in response to a Georgian attack on an enclave bordering Russia, has been furious about the aid to Georgia and suggested that Israel cannot expect Moscow to show restraint with Iran and Syria if the relationship continues.

Mr. Meridor said Russian arms sales to Israel’s adversaries were far more dangerous.

“Were Russia to continue to supply lethal, sophisticated arms to Syria, this would be destabilizing and dangerous for Israel and for peace in the region,” Mr. Meridor told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “We hope that they will not do that.”

He referred to the so-called S-125, also known as SA-3 Goa, a low-altitude surface-to-air missile system designed to track and destroy targets such as aircraft, helicopters and cruise missiles.

Defense experts suspect that Russia has sold the system to both Iran and Syria and expect more sales in the future.

“We hope that, despite the events in Georgia, the Russians will not supply Iran with arms,” Mr. Meridor said. “I hope the Russians know better. … I don’t see why anybody would perceive our relationship with Georgia to be in any way threatening or destabilizing.”

Moscow, which still has some troops in Georgian territory, has a different view.

“Russia is against any military aid to Georgia and would like to see that country demilitarized,” said Evgeny Khorisko, spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Israeli officials said they are reviewing requests from Georgia for new arms systems. They insisted that the weapons would be only for defensive purposes and said that Israel has vetoed orders for tanks. Israel has been reluctant to share its most advanced systems with Georgia for fear that the weapons could fall into Russian hands.

According to media reports, however, Israel has provided the Georgians with sophisticated unmanned surveillance drones, rockets and equipment to modernize combat aircraft.

Georgian Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili is a former Israeli citizen.

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About the Author
Nicholas  Kralev

Nicholas Kralev

Nicholas Kralev is The Washington Times’ diplomatic correspondent. His travels around the world with four secretaries of state — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — as well as his other reporting overseas trips inspired his new weekly column, “On the Fly.” He is a former writer for the weekend edition of the Financial Times and ...

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