Israel expressed concern Friday about a potential Russian sale of advanced anti-tank weapon systems to Damascus amid persistent fears in the Jewish state about a future conflict with its enemy.
The weapons in question, Russia’s most advanced anti-tank rockets, are capable of ripping through the most modern armour and penetrating even bunkers, the country’s top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper warned.
Referred to by NATO members as AT-15, they have an effective range of six kilometres (3.75 miles) longer than the firing range of the most advanced tanks, and would pose a serious problem to Israeli tanks in any potential conflict.
Israel is concerned that if Russia sells the weapons system to Syria then the rockets could end up in the hands of Shiite militia Hezbollah, with whom Israel fought an inconclusive war last summer, Yediot reported.
Army reserve general and former military intelligence chief Aharon Zeevi said the Russian arms sale was worth a billion dollars, which he said amounts to “at least one fifth of Syria’s foreign exchange reserves.”
“In Syria’s estimation it is preparing for a war this summer initiated by Israel, not Syria, and so it is focusing on reinforcing its arsenal,” the general told public radio.
Another senior official said the government was closely monitoring the situation with Syria, with whom Israel last went to war three decades ago, as politicians expressed fears about the potential Russian shipment.
“Israel is closely following the situation with Syria, and the strengthening of its military capacities was discussed during the recent government meeting when we examined the intelligence service evaluations,” the official said.
Last Sunday, spy chief Meir Dagan told ministers there was no chance of war in the region in 2007, but army intelligence chief Amos Yadlen said the chances of Syria reacting militarily against Israeli military moves are high.
“Delivering weapons to Syria today would encourage it to go to war,” Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying by public radio in response to the prospective Russian arms shipment.
Former foreign minister, Sylvan Shalom, a member of the right-wing opposition Likud party, accused Russia of “playing with fire.” He called on Israel to “mobilise all its forces to stop Russian scheming in the region”.
Peace talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000, in part because of disputes over the return of the strategic Golan Heights, which the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed in 1981.
Last week, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that Syrian forces appear to be moving closer to the armistice line with Israel and that Damascus was close to the weapons deal with Russia as part of an unprecedented armaments drive.