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Israel Questions Russia About Hizballah's Anti-Tank Rockets

David Dolan | Correspondent | Thursday, September 7, 2006

Israel Questions Russia About Hizballah's Anti-Tank Rockets

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli officials plan to question visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about Russian-made anti-tank rockets that reportedly killed dozens of IDF soldiers during the recent conflict with Hizballah forces in Lebanon.

The senior diplomat begins a two day visit to Israel Thursday evening. He will meet first with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before holding talks on Friday with several other Israeli government officials. On Saturday, Lavrov is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah, north of Jerusalem.

Israeli military commanders say Russian-made Fagot and Kornet anti-tank rockets (said to be among the best produced anywhere) proved to be the most deadly weapon in Hizballah's arsenal, which was mainly supplied by Syria.

The rockets succeeded several times in penetrating the advanced multi-layer armor meant to protect Israel's top line Merkava (Chariot) tanks.

The Kremlin has denied Israel's claim that the weapons were used during the recent conflict, saying instead that older Soviet-supplied rockets were probably what Israeli troops encountered on the battlefield.

Israeli officials have not accused Moscow of selling the advanced weapons directly to the Lebanese militia. However they do insist that the Fagot and Kornet rockets were deployed during the war, probably ending up in Hizballah hands after being purchased and supplied by the Shiite group's Syrian and Iranian allies.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres told a Moscow radio station on Wednesday that Israel had information that Russian officials had asked the Assad regime in Damascus to explain how the rockets ended up in Hizballah's arsenal. He insisted that the late model anti-tank rockets were indeed used by the Lebanese militiamen, adding that, "We saw these weapons. They had certain markings."

Soon after the United Nations- mandated ceasefire went into effect on August 14, an Israeli government delegation was sent to Moscow\super \nosupersub to inquire about the alleged rocket use.

At the time, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov claimed that Israel had provided no solid evidence to verify that the Russian missiles were used by Hizballah fighters. It is widely expected that such evidence will be shown to Foreign Minister Lavrov during his visit to Jerusalem.

Dr. Dore Gold, Israel's former United Nations ambassador who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told Cybercast News Service that Russia is making a huge political mistake by supplying weapons to former Soviet satellite states.

"Russia is seeking to reinvigorate the strong relations which the Soviets had with various client states like Syria and Iran. Therefore they supply them with sophisticated weapons, and are very reluctant to support U.S.-initiated United Nations sanctions against these countries, especially Tehran. But in the end, Iranian actions may give them little choice."

Dr. Gold, who authored a 2003 New York Times bestselling book on the growing international Islamic terrorist threat, said the current Kremlin occupants see non-Arab Sunni Muslim militants located in Chechnya and other Caucus Mountain areas as their main Islamic enemies, not Iranian Shiites or regional Sunni Arabs.

However he warned that Israel has learned the hard way in recent years that radical Shiites and Sunni terror groups are increasingly working together to confront the non-Muslim world, which, he noted, includes Russia.

Israeli media reports say government leaders were not happy about comments made by one of Foreign Minister Lavrov's deputies earlier this week. Vladimir Trofimov, the number two diplomat at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Middle East department, implied during a roundtable discussion in Moscow that Israel had initiated a major war against Hizballah forces to support America's global war on Islamic terrorism.

"This was a U.S.-Israeli conflict with the Islamic world, in which Iran has become a de-facto leader," he was quoted as saying by the Russian Interfax news agency.

Trofimov maintained that Israel's 34-day war with rogue Hizballah forces was just the opening stage in a looming American showdown with Iran.

"If we look at Israeli and U.S. plans, they aim at removing the Hizballah factor ahead of the forthcoming U.S. settling of accounts with Iran."

When asked about Tromimov's comments, Dore Gold noted that it was not Israel, but Hizballah leaders who initiated the intense summer conflict by launching an unprovoked cross-border incursion into sovereign Israeli territory on July 12.

"It seems far-fatched to me to see the war as having anything to do with supposed American machinations against Iran," Gold said.

Tromimov's remarks came as some Israeli military analysts questioned the purpose of a large eastern Mediterranean naval buildup off of Lebanon's coast.

The floating United Nations-assembled armada includes two aircraft carriers and more than a dozen support ships from several European nations -- France, Italy, Greece, and Germany -- backed by ships of the Italian-based U.S. Sixth Fleet and the Cyprus-based British fleet.

Although the multinational naval force is officially intended to support U.N. peacekeeping troops being deployed in Lebanon to shore up the August 14 ceasefire, some analysts maintain it is simply too large for that purpose alone.

This has raised some speculation that the growing fleet may be partly designed to back American and Israeli forces in any pending military confrontation with Iran and/or Syria.

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