Israelis Concerned That Syria May Buy Advanced Chinese Missile

Israeli policy-makers and military planners are watching with mounting concern Syria’s growing arsenal of ground-to-ground missiles, which could put Israeli population centers in jeopardy.

According to recent press reports, Syria is seeking to buy an advanced short-range missile, the M-9, which is produced in China.

The M-9 has a range of about 375 miles, double that of the Soviet-made SS-23, which Moscow has refused to give the Syrians. Israeli sources said the M-9 is not yet operational, but would be capable of hitting Israeli cities from deep inside Syria.

The Israelis say it is possible that Iran might be prepared to finance Syria’s purchase of the weapon from China, which will insist on immediate payment in hard currency.

But the United States may be able, through diplomatic means, to dissuade the Chinese from making the sale, Israeli analysts said. The New York Times on Wednesday quoted a State Department spokesperson as saying the United States would view such a sale with “deep concern.”

Israeli sources noted, however, that American efforts did not prevent China from selling its Silkworm missiles to Iran.

The Israelis are especially worried about the missiles, because of the use of chemical warfare in the Iran-Iraq war and indications that Syria, too, is seeking a chemical warfare capacity.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir said in a television interview that Syria consistently seeks to arm itself with missiles. “This is not new,” he said, “but it is worrying.” Shamir would not comment on the report that Syria was seeking missiles from China.

But the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, referred to it earlier this week. He said Israel would develop methods to intercept ground-to-ground missiles in flight, to strike at their launching pads and improve defensive measures to absorb their impact.

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