Israel 'determined' to halt Syria missile deal: Minister
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. REUTERS PhotoIsraeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is "fully determined" to try to halt sales by Russia of advanced missiles to Syria when he visits Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin, a minister said Sunday.
A reported Russian plan to sell Damascus S-300 missile batteries "worries us at the highest level and the prime minister is fully determined that this contract should not be fulfilled," Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, a member of the security cabinet, told public radio.
"Such a sale to Syria would alter the balance of forces in the region and these weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah," the Lebanese militia ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israel's arch-foe Iran, Shalom said.
Should Syria obtain the ultra-modern Russian weapons, which can destroy aircraft or guided missiles, "action by countries seeking change in Syria would become much more difficult," he added.
Russian and Israeli officials have said the two leaders are to meet shortly, with Russia's Interfax news agency quoting Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the visit was being planned for next week.
"Netanyahu and Putin will discuss the Russian arms sales to Syria, in particular the sale of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems," Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Friday, adding that the Israeli premier would also seek to raise the Iranian nuclear issue.
Israel twice last week carried out air strikes near Damascus, attacks a senior Israeli source said were aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that the sale of S300s to Damascus would be "potentially destabilising" for the region.
Russia however refuses to rule it out however, saying it has to honour existing contracts.
On a visit to Warsaw on Friday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was continuing to fulfil agreements by delivering military hardware to Assad's regime in defiance of calls for a freeze.
"Russia has sold and signed contracts a long time ago, and is completing supplies of the equipment, which is anti-aircraft systems, according to the already signed contracts," he told reporters.