Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Russia weapons transfer could bring war, Likud MK says

Tzachi Hanegbi warns that S-300 missiles in Syrian hands may embolden Hezbollah; Russian UN envoy urges Israel to keep calm

If Russia completes the sale of sophisticated S-300 missile defense systems to Syria, it could plunge the Middle East into regional war, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said Wednesday.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Hanegbi cautioned that a war would be the last thing Russia would be interested in, adding that the weapons could also aggravate provocative actions against Israel from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

Acknowledging the truth of Russian claims that the weapons deal had been made years ago and that the issue was the implementation of the agreement, the Likud MK posited that the move could be seen as Russia’s attempt to ensure its standing and influence in the country in the future.

Hanegbi is a former chairman of the influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

His remarks came just a day after both Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz criticized Russia’s decision to go ahead with the deal.

Using unusually harsh language, Steinitz said the decision was “odd” and “totally wrong” on moral and strategic grounds.

“The missiles are a threat,” Ya’alon said, adding that at the moment the deal was moving at a slow pace. “Let’s hope it doesn’t happen. But if it does, we’ll know what to do.”

On Tuesday night, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations said that the sale of the weapons was not the start of an arms race and recommended Israel stay calm over the deal.

In an interview with CNN, Vitaly Churkin suggested that Israel consider the risks involved in taking action against the missile delivery.

“The Israelis will keep a cool head and refrain from reckless actions,” he said, adding that in the past Russia has responded to Israeli concerns about advanced weapons shipments falling into the wrong hands by guaranteeing that the arms only go to their intended destinations and not to third parties.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu and officials including Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin flew to Russia to dissuade Putin from going ahead with the deal.

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