Russia negotiating missile sale with Syria

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Russia announced Wednesday they were in negotiations with Syria for the sale of anti-aircraft missiles.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that he received a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he told him that Moscow will go ahead with the planned arms deal.

al Jazeera quoted Mr. Sharon saying "I wrote to President Putin but we got an answer [saying] they are going to sell that kind of weapon to the Syrians." There are conflicting reports among news agencies about what type of missiles are being sold—some have reported that they are SA-18 Iglas, while others have reported that they are Strelets. Iglas are shoulder-fired weapons capable of being carried by individual people, contrasted to Strelets which can only be fired when attached to vehicles, Reuters reported. The former would presumably be more attractive for terrorist proliferation.

In the past Russia had denied that it wanted to sell missiles to Syria. The United States and Israel have protested sales of the missiles, saying Russian arms supplies would aid terrorists in the Middle East.

There have been concerns that US-made Stinger missiles, similar to the Igla, have been acquired by terrorists in the Middle East and pose potential dangers for military and domestic flights when they are taking off. During the Afghan-Soviet war (1979–1989), the USA sold Stinger missiles to the mujahadeen fighters to use against the USSR. Various branches of the mujahadeen later became the Taliban and Al Qaeda, with whom the US has been engaged in the War on Terror since the 2001 World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks.