AP Photo/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)
JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, traveling to Russia this week on one of his last diplomatic missions, said Sunday he would urge Moscow not to sell sophisticated weapons to Israel's enemies.
Iran is interested in buying anti-aircraft missiles that could cripple any military strike against its nuclear program. Israel is also afraid Moscow would sell Syria the same missile defense system.
In an overture before the trip, Israel's Cabinet voted Sunday to recognize Russia's claim to property in downtown Jerusalem. Russia laid claim to the site, named for the son of a Russian czar, on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Olmert travels to Russia on Monday with little diplomatic clout: Within weeks, he is to step aside, driven from office by multiple corruption allegations. But he told his Cabinet on Sunday that he would use the two-day visit to bring up security issues of long-standing concern in his talks with Russian leaders.
"We will remind them again of matters that trouble us greatly," including "the supply of arms to irresponsible elements whose activities worry us very much," the prime minister said in a televised statement, without elaborating. He also said he would press to keep working to resolve "the Iranian problem, where Russia plays a special role."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has frequently called for Israel's destruction, and Israel suspects he means to carry out that objective by developing nuclear bombs with the help of a Russian-built nuclear power plant. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Israel hopes international diplomacy will persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program but says "all options are on the table" if diplomacy fails. In 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor.
The U.N. Security Council has approved three rounds of sanctions on Iran. But Russia, a council member with veto power, opposes tightening the sanctions any further.
Iran says it plans to buy from Russia advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that could detect aircraft sent to destroy its nuclear facilities. Syria, which backs Hezbollah guerrillas who battled Israel in Lebanon in 2006, reportedly has asked to buy them, too.
Russia has not confirmed the reports. But recently, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said his government was prepared to sell Syria arms with a "defensive character."
Israel claims Russian missiles sold to Syria made their way into the Hezbollah's hands in the 2006 war, though it has not accused Russia of directly arming the guerrilla group.
Syria is holding indirect peace negotiations with Israel, but the two enemies remain in a state of war.
After four decades of Cold War animosity, ties between Moscow and Israel improved significantly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Israel is also home to more than 1 million Soviet emigres.
But Moscow's position on Iran and arms sales to Syria have strained ties, as have Israeli weapons sales to Georgia, which Russia briefly invaded in August in support of pro-Russia secessionists.
The Cabinet's decision on Sunday to transfer ownership over "Sergei's Courtyard" in downtown Jerusalem was meant to improve the diplomatic climate before the visit.
The site, named for Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, a son of Czar Alexander II, was built in 1890 to accommodate Russians making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Israel bought other Russian property in the area 45 years ago.