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Russia proceeds with missile sale to Syria

Feb. 28, 2011 at 8:30 AM   |   Comments

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MOSCOW, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Russia has signaled its intent to press ahead with plans to supply Syria with Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles.

The intent was voiced by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov over the weekend.

"The contract," he told journalists in Vladivostok, "is in progress." The minister added his country was also bent on carrying through on promises to deliver several Bastion anti-ship missile systems to Syria.

The move has rekindled strong reactions from Israel, which has tried to block the sale because of fears the weapons could end up in the hands of militants.

Details of the deal were made public in September. The agreement delineated Russia's intention to send a large shipment of "anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria," the Israeli news site Ynetnews explained.

Over the weekend, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement that the likely recipient of the cruise missile would be the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group.

Capable of carrying a payload of 273 pounds and traveling 184 miles, the supersonic cruise missiles are considered very accurate. They are designed to travel just yards above the surface of the water, making it difficult to either intercept or identify by radar.

Israeli authorities have expressed a strong concern over the increase of Syrian defensive potential, as well as over a threat of transferring weapons to Lebanese or Palestinian radicals.

Washington also said the deal could destabilize the region. The Jerusalem Post cited American officials saying the arms posed a "major threat" to Israeli civilians and Israel's navy if used by the Hezbollah.

Israel has long argued that Damascus aids and abets Hezbollah, a group on several countries' lists of terror organizations. Israel fought a 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006 and is concerned of a strike mounted against its soil on behalf of Iran, its main nemesis.

Russian weapons sales to Damascus provoked Israeli ire in May after Moscow said it was supplying Syria with MiG-29 fighter jets, Pantsir short-range air defense systems and armored vehicles.

In June 2007, a flurry of Russian media reported that Russia had begun delivery of five MiG aircraft to Syria under a deal negotiated in a year prior. The jets were purportedly sold to Syria for $1 billion, an amount allegedly financed by Iran. Russia has denied the allegation.

The latest sale of controversial missile is said to be worth $300 million, covering the delivery of 72 missiles.

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