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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Russia threatens sale of offensive weapons to Israel's enemies

MOSCOW — Russian security officials threatened retaliation against Israel for its weapons exports to Georgia including eight different aerial drones.

Russian Deputy Chief of Staff Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn said Israel supplied at least eight different models of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Georgia. Nogovitsyn said Israel has also sold a range of weapons and sought to export main battle tanks to Georgia.

Russian diplomatic sources said the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was furious over Israel's refusal to impose a military embargo on Georgia. The sources said Putin's aides had urged Israel several times to halt weapons exports.

"We asked Israel not to sell offensive weapons to a hostile neighboring state, but they said they're a sovereign state," a diplomatic source said.

"Well, Israel shouldn't be surprised if we sell offensive weapons to Israel's neighbors."

Already, Russia, in wake of its military victory over Georgia, has scheduled a summit with Syria to discuss offensive weapons sales, the sources said. Syrian President Bashar Assad was scheduled to meet Putin in Moscow on Aug. 20.

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Tbilisi has asserted that Israel continued to ship weapons and platforms to Georgia throughout the Russian war. But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili reported delays in the supply of Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles to his country.

"The Israeli weapons have proved very effective," Saakashvili told a news conference on Aug. 13.

So far, the diplomatic sources said, Putin has been careful to limit Russian military sales to Iran and Syria to defensive systems. In 2007, they said, Putin, who remains in charge of defense export policy, vetoed efforts by the Defense Ministry and the state-owned arms agency Rosoboronexport to sell the Iskander-E long-range rocket to Syria.

"Putin will now offer Iskander to Syria," another Russian source said. "Whether this will be a serious offer or something just to scare the Israelis we'll know in another few months."

In December 2007, Israel agreed not to sign new contracts for offensive weapons to Georgia. But the Israeli Defense Ministry, supported by the United States, maintained it would honor existing arms deals with Tbilisi.

"We told the Israelis that this was a very unwise move and that Russians were being killed because of Georgia's policy," the Russian source said. "They didn't take us seriously, probably because they were encouraged by the United States."

"In 2007, Israeli experts trained Georgian commandos in Georgia, and there were plans to supply heavy weaponry, electronic weapons, tanks and other arms at a later date," Nogovitsyn told a news conference on Aug. 19. "But the deal didn't work out."

Officials said Moscow's assertion was based on a review of weapons and military installations captured in Russia's invasion of Georgia. They said Israel also trained Georgia's military, particularly its special forces.

At the news conference, Nogovitsyn did not identify the Israeli UAVs. Israel has acknowledged the sale of UAVs to Tbilisi.

The Russian deputy chief said Israel also exported bombs, mines and mine-clearing systems to Georgia. He said the systems were comprised of munitions that could explode landmines.

In late 2007, Israel agreed to end the sale of offensive military systems to Georgia. The decision by the Israeli Defense Ministry did not affect weapons already ordered by Tbilisi.

On Aug. 20, Russia and Syria were scheduled to begin a two-day summit meant to focus on defense and military cooperation. Syrian President Bashar Assad was scheduled to meet Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in what officials said could result in arms sales to Damascus.

"The significant military aid provided by Israel to Georgia in its war against Russia will affect in the future — probably in the near future — relations between Russia and Israel, as well as Russia's attitude toward Arab states," an unidentified Russian analyst said in an interview to Syrian state television on the eve of Assad's visit. "Russia will reassess its relations with Israel, and it is likely that Moscow will decide to increase its military aid to Arab countries in conflict with Israel, including Syria."

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