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Russian arms sales to Iran and Syria have also been extensive.

According to an article by military analyst Nikita Petrov, published by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency, “Syria owes Russia $3 billion for weapons supplied to it, and this on top of Damascus’ $10 billion debt for armaments sold in Soviet times, which Moscow forgave, incidentally, for a pledge to spend another $2 billion on arms purchases from Russia.”

A senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday that Washington does not expect Iran to receive a Russian air-defense system this year.

“To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe we think the missiles referred to … are in fact slated for delivery by the end of this year,” Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Meridor said that any new arms sales to Israel’s enemies would increase the threat from “two unprecedented terror bases supported by Iran and Syria” - the militant Palestinian group Hamas in the south and Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the north.

“We have today our country covered from both sides by something that may be nearing altogether 50,000 rockets and missiles,” he said.

In an effort to reduce the threat, Israel began indirect talks last year with Syria in Turkey.

In the most direct and frank public discussion by a senior Israeli official of the Jewish state’s rationale for talking to the Syrians, the ambassador said that a “U-turn” in Syria’s alliance with Iran is a “litmus test” for reaching a broad peace agreement.

“There can’t be true peace if Syria continues to align with the Iranian regime and with terror groups,” such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Mr. Meridor said.

The ambassador said repeatedly that the prospect of Iran building a nuclear weapon is the most serious threat in the Middle East today. “The window of opportunity” to deter that threat “is narrowing but not yet closed,” he added.

Three rounds of U.N. sanctions on Tehran so far are “not enough,” Mr. Meridor said. He called on European companies to cut the supply of refined petroleum products to Iran to put more pressure on the regime.

Asked whether Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear sites, the ambassador said his country’s “clear preference is for this to be resolved through peaceful means.” He pointedly refused to criticize Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s stated intention to meet with Iranian leaders if elected.

Joshua Mitnick contributed to this article from Tel Aviv.