Israeli officials say Hezbollah has obtained an advanced surface-to-air missile, forcing Israeli aircraft to fly at higher altitudes and underscoring fears missiles Russia is selling to Syria may be handed over to terrorists.
A report in Israel’s Maariv daily Hebrew edition quoted Israeli officials saying Hezbollah has acquired SAM-18 anti-aircraft missiles from a former Soviet republic other than Russia, prompting Israeli air force jets to fly higher while nearing the Israeli-Lebanese border. The SAM-18 is a high-altitude, infrared-capable, heat-seeking missile that homes on and attacks the primary source of heat detected. The missiles are considered moderately advanced, and would be the most potent missile known to be in Hezbollah’s arsenal.
The report strengthens American and Israeli objections to a deal Russia made last week to sell Syria the advanced SA-18 surface-to-air missile, an improved version of the Strela missile with a larger warhead, extended range and higher speed. Sources said the sale is the first transfer in a larger missile package that includes another anti-aircraft missile system mounted on armored personnel carriers and a surface missile capable of engaging multiple targets at once.
U.S. and Israeli officials have been urging Russia to limit the scope of its missile sale to Syria and have expressed concern the weapons could be passed to Hezbollah or to insurgents for use against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the missiles will not find their way to terrorists.
“We have the ability to know exactly where these missiles are located,” Putin said. He added the missiles are mounted on vehicles and cannot operate if they are detached from them.
Syrian president Bashar Assad told Russia’s State Institute for Foreign Relations last week the weapons sold by Russia “are for air defense, meant to prevent aircraft from intruding in our airspace. If Israel objects to our acquisition of these defensive weapons, it is as if it is saying, ‘We want to attack Syria but we do not want them to defend themselves.’ That’s not logical.”
WorldNetDaily reported the missile sales were part of a major weapons agreement between Putin and Syrian president Bashar Assad in which Russia pledged to upgrade Syria’s military and sell to it advanced arms.
Putin also pledged joint business ventures, including projects focusing on the development of oil and gas resources in Syria, and agreed to write-off 73 percent of Syria’s $13.4 billion debt to Russia.