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16 Jan 05. The following is the text of Mikhail Zygar’s article, headlined “Israel wants to intercept Russian missiles. On the road to Damascus” and published by the Russian newspaper Kommersant on 13 January. Subheadings have been inserted editorially: Yesterday Israel effectively confirmed yesterday’s Kommersant piece about the cooling of Russian-Israeli relations over Russia’s intention to sell Syria Iskander-E missile systems. An Israeli government representative said that his country would try to prevent the deal.

Israel denies “crisis” in relations with Russia

Yesterday’s report of an impending Russian-Syrian contract for the purchase of Iskander-E missile systems had an enormous impact in Israel. The prime minister’s office was very cautious in its comments on the Kommersant piece, noting that “crisis” is not a particularly accurate definition of the situation: there are “fundamental differences” in Israeli-Russian relations which the sides are conducting a dialogue to overcome.

Nonetheless, according to the paper Haaretz, a source in the Israeli government confirmed that Israel is concerned about military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Damascus, and it will do all it can to prevent the deal for the sale of the missiles.

We also learned yesterday that the Israeli authorities have already informed Washington of their concern, but they asked it not to interfere for the moment, promising that they would sort everything out with Russia themselves.

Russia “effectively confirms” missile deal with SyriaThe Russian Foreign Ministry was also extremely evasive in its response to reports on the “missile scandal”. Yesterday Russian Foreign Ministry official spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said: “We have not noticed any signs of deterioration in our relations with Israel. In any case, the Russian side did not initiate such a turn of events and does not intend to do so.”

Moreover the Foreign Ministry effectively confirmed the upcoming signing of a contract with Syria: “As for military-technical cooperation with Near East states, in this case Russia is closely following the accepted rules and relevant international accords,” Mr Yakovenko said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is scheduled to visit St Petersburg on 24 January. It is the Syrian leader’s first official visit to Russia and it will last four days – the contract on the acquisition of the Iskander-E systems may well be signed during the visit.

Israeli media on “cooling” of relations with Russia

Relations with Russia came to the forefront in the Israeli media yesterday. The thing is that by yesterday some journalists knew more or less not only about the cooling of bilateral relations, but also about the proposed deal between Moscow and Damascus, but discussion of it was banned by military censors. According to Israeli rules, such “taboo” subjects cannot be covered by the domestic media without authorization by the authorities or without reference to foreign press reports.

So the Kommersant piece gave Israeli journalists a free hand and they were quick to publish the details known to them of the “missile deal”. For example, an unnamed Israeli Defence Ministry representative told the paper Haaretz that the military department leadership is apprehensive lest the latest Russian weapons fall into the hands of the Hezbollah grouping, based in southern Lebanon.Russian Foreign Ministry official spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko yesterday even entered into a long-distance debate with the expert, declaring that “in our export policy we pay special attention to preventing sensitive types of weapons from falling into the hands of international terrorists, and the Israeli leadership knows it.”

Meanwhile, as a source at the Israeli Foreign Ministry told Kommersant, yesterday’s piece was a “50-per-cent hit”, thus hinting that aside from the sale of Iskander-E

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