Is­rael urges Rus­sia to halt arms to Iran, Syria

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY NI­CHOLAS KRALEV

Is­rael’s en­voy to the United States urged Rus­sia on Sept. 9 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.

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 Sept. 9 that Wash­ing­ton does not ex- pect 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 “Uturn” 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.

MICHAEL CON­NOR/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

WEAPONS: Is­raeli Am­bas­sador Sal­lai Meri­dor calls Rus­sian arms sales to Syria and Iran “danger­ous.”

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