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Thursday, November 5, 2009     GET REAL

Syria allows Russia use of port in missile deal

LONDON — Syria has reportedly agreed to purchase an advanced missile from Russia.   

Diplomatic sources said Russia would begin deliveries of the Yakhont missile as part of expanded naval cooperation with Syria, Middle East Newsline reported.

They said Syria has agreed to allow the Russian Navy use of the port of Tartous as well as the expansion of logistic services to Moscow's military.

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The sources said the Yakhont would be deployed on Syria's small navy as part of expanded cooperation with the Kremlin.

"The deal is that Russia will supply and train the Syrians to use this new missile," a diplomat said.

The Kremlin was also said to have been working on a plant to expand the Tartous port to enable the docking of large Russian Navy ships. The sources said Tartous would become a regional maintenance center for the Russian Navy.

Yakhont, with a 200-kilogram conventional warhead, was described as a sea-to-sea missile with land-attack capabilities. The ramjet-powered missile was said to have a range of 300 kilometers and could threaten Israeli shipping throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Yakhont could also be fired from aircraft.

The sources said Israel has discussed the Yakhont deal with the Kremlin. They said Israel expressed concerns that Syria would transfer Yakhont to the Iranian-based Hizbullah in neighboring Lebanon.

"The Israelis now see every Syrian military deal as one that could help Hizbullah as well," the diplomat said. "This is because Iran pays for most of the military contracts signed by Damascus."

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