Officials in Jerusalem said Thursday that Israel is determined to continue the indirect peace negotiations with Damascus despite President Bashar Assad's visit to Russia, during which he explored the possibility of purchasing advanced weaponry and offered Moscow to station missiles on Syrian soil to counter Washington's plan to plant missiles in Poland.
"Israel will continue with the talks, and the fifth round of negotiations is scheduled to begin soon," one official said. "Assad looked to purchase arms from Russia even before his current trip to Moscow; we strongly oppose such a move, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made this abundantly clear during his phone conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday."
According to the official, Israel does not hold specific information on the type or number of weapons Assad is asking to acquire. "We will work on the diplomatic front to stop (the arms deal)," he said.
Medvedev (L) and Assad (Photo: AP)
"Olmert told Medvedev that selling advanced weapons to Syria would disrupt the security balance in the Middle East and stressed that Israel particularly objects to selling Damascus S-300 missiles, a deal the PM was able to thwart during his meeting last October with then-Russian President Vladimir Putin," said the official.
"The Syrians are fearful and are therefore looking to acquire weapons systems. This is nothing new. In our view, Syria has not changed its strategic outlook and Assad still stands behind his plan to see the peace process with Israel through. While the Syrians may have asked to purchase arms, we do not know if the Russians agreed to sell. We will proceed with cautious and responsible negotiations."
The Syrians are apparently looking to purchase from Moscow S-300 anti-plane missiles, which could threaten US aircrafts in the Middle East and make an Israeli air strike more difficult, as well as surface-to-surface Iskander missiles, which have a 300-kilometer range.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that the Israeli security establishment is analyzing the ramifications of Assad's visit to Russia, with an emphasis on Damascus' intentions to "purchase advanced weaponry and upgrade its army".