Russia Delivers Air Defence Units to Syria

Russia has begun delivery of modern air defense units to Syria, while rejecting speculation that some of the weapons could be forwarded secretly to Iran, a newspaper reported Friday.

“The first part of the delivery to Syria has started,” the centrist daily Nezavissimaya Gazeta reported, quoting information from a domestic military information agency.

A spokesman for Russia’s arms export agency Rosoboronexport declined to comment on the newspaper report.

The report acknowledged that the delivery of the weapons, the Pantsyr-S1E self-propelled, short-range missile air defense system, was particularly sensitive in light of Israeli claims last year that Russian arms sold to Syria had ended up in the hands of militant group Hezbollah.

Israel fought a brief war with Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon in July 2006 and, afterward, accused Russia of indirectly supplying Hezbollah with relatively-sophisticated anti-tank weapons, an accusation Moscow denied.

Nezavissimaya Gazeta quoted an official involved in Russian arms export policy as describing concerns that Russian air defense weapons could be reexported to Iran as “silly rumors.”

“This is not possible,” Vitaly Shlykov, a member of the state committee on foreign and defense policy, was quoted as saying. “One of the conditions for every deal is the prohibition on transfer of the weaponry to a third country.”

Officially, the contract was for the sale of 50 Pantsyr units for about $900 million. Media reports have put the number of units sold to Syria at around 36.

In May, the London-based arms specialist magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that Syria had agreed to send Iran at least 10 of the Pantsyr units.

That report was categorically denied by a range of top Russian officials including First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.