Israel warns against Russian arms supply to Syria
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Saturday that advanced weapons supplied by Russia to war-torn Syria could end up in the wrong hands and be used against the Jewish state.
A Russian shipment of Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria was condemned by the United States on Friday and Israel is also alarmed by the prospect of Russia supplying S-300 advanced air defense missile systems to Damascus.
While Israel has declined to take sides in the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to topple him, Western and Israeli sources say it has launched air strikes inside Syria in a bid to destroy weapons it believes are destined for the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Army Radio: "(Weapons) could reach others in Syria or Lebanon and be used against Israel."
"These are not just any weapons, they are tie-breakers, and that's why there is a responsibility with all world powers, certainly Russia, not to supply such arms," Livni said, adding that Israel had the right to defend itself.
Israel has neither denied nor confirmed reports that it attacked Iranian-supplied missiles stored near Damascus this month that it believed were awaiting delivery to Hezbollah, an Assad ally which fought a war with Israel in 2006.
Senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad said the S-300 and the Yakhont would likely end up with Hezbollah and threaten both Israel and U.S. forces in the Gulf.
"If Hezbollah and Iran are supporting Syria and propping the (Assad) regime up, then why shouldn't it transfer those weapons to Hezbollah? You don't even have to be an intelligence expert, it makes sense that they will," Gilad told Channel Two television's Meet the Press.
In comments to Israel Radio on Friday, Gilad said: "If you ask the Russians if these weapons will be passed on to Hezbollah, they will say: 'No, that is against Russian law.' But it's not certain that Russian law is something they will respect. So if Hezbollah can put its hands on them, it will."
The two-year-old civil war in Syria between Assad's forces and rebel fighters has killed at least 80,000 people and driven 1.5 million abroad.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)