Netanyahu, Putin to Discuss Syria Weapons Sale

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Following reports of the delivery of missiles and advanced anti-missile batteries to Syria, Israel announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to meet with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin soon to discuss the issue.

The Prime Minister's Office would not confirm when the visit would take place or any details about it, but one official who spoke on condition of anonymity told CBN News it would take place "very soon."

The Wall Street Journal reported last week on the sale of six S-300 anti-missile batteries and 144 ground-to-air missiles. At least some of the Russian weaponry sold to Syrian President Bashar Assad has killed more than 70,000 civilians and created more than a million refugees in a little over two years of civil war. 

U.S. Defense Secretary John Kerry called the missile delivery "potentially destabilizing with respect to the State of Israel."

Israel has two main concerns: 1) the Syrian civil war could spill over its borders, and 2) Syrian advanced weaponry could fall into the hands of Islamic terror groups or gangs fighting among the rebels against Assad's regime.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia is merely completing delivery of previously signed agreements.

"Russia does not plan to sell," Lavrov told reporters in Warsaw following meetings with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerville, Itar-Tass reported on Friday.

"Russia has long ago sold and completed the delivery of the signed contracts on equipment, which are anti-aircraft systems," he said. He insisted the S-300 is a "defensive weapon" and "not forbidden by any international standards."

Following meetings Friday between Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron in Sochi, a member of Putin's delegation repeated the disclaimer, saying Russia is merely fulfilling previously signed agreements of weapons that are "exclusively defensive."

Meanwhile, Russian Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov said a fleet of warships, which may include nuclear submarines, will be deployed to the Mediterranean, RIA Novosti reported over the weekend.

"Overall, already from this year, we plan to have 5-6 warships and support vessels [in the Mediterranean Sea], which will be replaced on a rotating basis from each of the fleets -- the Black Sea, Baltic, Northern and, in some cases, even the Pacific Fleet," Chrikov told the Russian news agency. "Depending on the scope of assignments and their complexity, the number of warships in the task force may be increased." 

Chirkov said the Mediterranean task force may be deployed to the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

"No doubt, if necessary, when some tasks arise in other nearby regions, in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the task force may be used," he said, adding that naval crews "must be comprehensively trained to solve tasks not only in the Mediterranean but also in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans."

According to the report, the decision to deploy a permanent task force to the Mediterranean has already been made and the headquarters of the Mediterranean fleet will be established this summer.

In 2008, Russia began renovations on Syria's Tartus and Latakia ports to establish permanent bases for Russian naval fleets on the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel, Syria and Lebanon all have ports on the Mediterranean Sea.

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