As Syria continues to implode amidst a bloody civil war, Moscow is increasingly siding with its ally Iran to side with and prop up Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Damascus. As I’ve reported before, the Russians are reportedly selling advanced weaponry to Syria, including MiG fighter jets, millions of rounds of ammunition, and a state-of-the-art missile system known as the S-300. The Israeli government is so concerned about the S-300 system that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly told the Kremlin that Israel will go to war, if necessary, to prevent that missile system from being delivered, assembled and operationalized in Syria.
Why is Netanyahu so worried about the S-300 system? The Times of Israel reports that “aside from the unique strategic capacities that the S-300 air-defense missiles would afford Syria, putting planes taking off from central Israel and its main international airport within the missiles’ range, Jerusalem also fears that the system could fall into the hands of terror groups like Hezbollah.”
Here are excerpts from the Times’ report on the face-to-face conversation Netanyahu had with Russian Czar Vladimir Putin, just last week:
- Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted during his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel would destroy Syrian S-300 missiles before they became fully operational, Maariv cited Middle Eastern diplomats saying Friday. The reported threat underlined how firmly Israel has sought to pressure Russia to cancel the deal, apparently with some success.
According to the report, during the meeting between the heads of state earlier this month in the Black Sea city of Sochi, Netanyahu called on Putin to cancel Russia’s transfer of the sophisticated anti-aircraft system to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and indicated that, should the delivery go ahead, Israel would strike the missiles before they became operational.
The report came the same day that American and German officials warned Russia not to send Assad the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, and as Russian media indicated that Moscow was delaying delivery.
Officials present at the Netanyahu-Putin meeting “were shocked by the audacity Netanyahu displayed before a leader of a global power,” the Israeli paper reported.
Putin reportedly guaranteed that Assad wouldn’t transfer the S-300s to a third party, such as Hezbollah, and that should Israel strike such an arms convoy, Russia didn’t believe Syria would retaliate. Despite this, Netanyahu reportedly made clear that Israel was concerned over the deal in and of itself.
The Russian president was said to respond to Netanyahu saying that the deal had to go through, but hinted that Israel could prevent the transfer if it, or another entity, bought the missiles instead or “offered an alternative,” according to Maariv.
Israeli media had earlier reported that Netanyahu warned Putin of a descent into war should Russia make the delivery. Netanyahu said that if acquired by Assad, the S-300 “is likely to draw us into a response, and could send the region deteriorating into war,” Channel 2 reported two weeks ago, in the immediate aftermath of the meeting.