US to be concerned about Russian-Syrian missile deal

&to=http:// ' target=_blank>Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will pay a historic visit to Russia on January 24 for talks with President Vladimir Putin amid reports that he is shopping for a missile that can strike any spot in Israel.

Assad's talks with Putin will be held in St Petersburg, the Kremlin chief's native city, a source said.

The four-day visit, though not officially announced, has already infuriated the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Israeli government. Israeli public radio reported that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon had already consulted Washington on the rapid heightening of tension of the Jewish state's relations with Russia, wrote the Times of India.

According to the Daily Star, Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia and Syria signed a deal a few days ago for sale of advanced Igla SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles, which experts say could endanger the frequent Israeli overflights of Lebanon and flights on the Israeli side of the border. Also, the Moscow daily Kommersant reported that Syria is also interested in buying 18 Iskander-E guided missile systems, and Russia has agreed.

The ground-to-ground missiles, mounted on truck launchers, can destroy targets up to 280 kilometers away and would put most of Israel's territory, including the Dimona nuclear center in the Negev desert, in jeopardy, Kommersant said in the unsourced report. Israeli officials would not comment on the report about the Iskander-E missiles.

Analysts said the United States might be concerned that Iraqi insurgents might get their hands on Syria's Russian anti-aircraft missiles, threatening U.S. warplanes in Iraq.

News reports say senior Israeli officials have consulted with both the Russian and U.S. governments to express their concern about the prospective deal.

Moscow was a major arms supplier to Syria during the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Cold War era, and its cash-strapped military industry is said to be keen to make the new sale to help keep development and production of the SS-26 missiles going.

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