Among Israel’s main concerns regarding the possible sale of Russian S300 air-defense systems to Syria is that they may then be transferred to Iran, Strategic Affairs Minister Minister Yuval Steinitz said Tuesday.
Moscow has up until now refused to deliver those state-of-the air anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, which has tried repeatedly over the last decade to attain them.
“We are very concerned about the new supply of sophisticated arms to Syria itself,” Steinitz – who also holds the strategic affairs and intelligence portfolios — said at speech at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA).
“We don’t understand Russia’s position about it. Why should anyone supply [Syrian President Bashar] Assad with advanced ballistic or anti-aircraft or anti-ship rockets at this very time.”
Steinitz listed three reasons for Israel’s strong opposition to the sale: that it could encourage Assad to continue waging war against the rebels and discourage him from compromising with the opposition; that the weapons could find their way, because of Syria’s instability, into the hands of Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations; and that they could be transferred to Iran.
“Maybe, because of the disorder in Syria, of the very heavy dependence of Syria on the Iranians assistance, some of those weapons might unfortunately find their way to the Iranians. This is very bad, and against the weapon embargo on Iran,” Steinitz said.
Steinitz added that the missiles were not only of a defensive capability, but – because of their ability to shoot down aircraft up to 200 km away – could also be used offensively. Deployed over Damascus, these missiles could target Israeli aircraft, including civilian aircraft, flying over Haifa and Tel Aviv, he said.
Steinitz, who said Israel has good relations with Russia and a “very good and close dialogue” with the Kremlin, added that there was reason to believe the Russians could be persuaded not to deliver these weapons at this time.
“We have reason to believe that there is still room to convince the Russians on this matter,” he said.
“We received clarifications, or we have reason to believe that these missiles were not yet delivered, or may not be supplied in the near future at least.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, defended on Tuesday Russian arms sales to the Syrian government, but said Moscow had not yet delivered the S-300s to Damascus.
Putin told a news conference after a summit with European Union leaders that Russia did not want to upset the military balance in the region and all its arms sales to Syria were in line with international law. He also praised the S-300 missiles system as one of the best in the world but added: “The contract was signed several years ago. It has not been fulfilled yet.”
Last month Assad told Lebanese news outlet Al-Manar that Syria had received a first shipment of S-300 missiles from Russia under a deal signed before the current conflict raging in his country.
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