has sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Syria,
a buildup that US and European officials see as a newly aggressive stance meant partly to warn the West and Israel
not to intervene in Syria's bloody civil war, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
On Thursday, Syria's official news agency SANA reported that five Russian warships had crossed the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea. A Russian Navy spokesperson said that this was the first time in decades that Pacific Ocean Russian warships sail in the area.
According to him, the Russian warships are heading to Cyprus. The Russian defense minister said: "The Russian Defense Ministry started setting up a special force of warships in the Mediterranean in order to protect Russia's interests in the region."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Russia has sent advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria. The missiles are apparently an improved version of the Yakhonts, which Russia has previously provided to Syria, and have been outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective.
Also Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a proposed international conference on Syria should be held as soon as possible, but that no date had yet been agreed.
"We should not lose the momentum," Ban said of a US-Russian proposal to bring the Syrian government and opposition representatives to a peace conference.
"There is a high expectation that this meeting should be held as soon as possible," he said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov agreed. "The sooner the better," Lavrov told the joint news conference with Ban, who was due to meet President Vladimir Putin later on Friday.
Lavrov reiterated Russia's view that Iran should be invited to the conference, which could complicate its organization because of potential opposition from the West.
On Thursday, Lavrov
announced that Russia would remain committed to previously signed arms deal "regarding agreements pertaining to aerial defense weapons."
Putin and Netanyahu (Photo: EPA)
This marks a failure by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
who traveled to Russia earlier this week with the aim of dissuading Moscow from going ahead with the sale of S-300 missiles.
According to Lavrov, Russia will not sign any new deal with the Syrian government, but is nonethless obligated to previous commitments.
Ynet's defense analyst Ron Ben-Yishai explains that the main reason for the growing tensions in Israel's north is Iranian and Syrian desire to bolster Hezbollah.
Tehran officials believe that by the end of 2013 either Israel and the US or both will decide for or against a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Iran
hopes to deter the West from making mounting a military operation by threatening Israel's hinterland.
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop