Despite official statements to the contrary, Russia will not transfer a shipment of advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, an unnamed senior Russian official told the Sunday Times.
According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin of the risk such a deal posed to regional stability and Israeli civilians during a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi earlier this month, leading to the cancellation of the planned sale of six S-300 batteries to Bashar Assad’s regime.
In their meeting, Netanyahu reportedly warned Putin that Moscow’s sale of a sophisticated missile defense system to Assad could push the Middle East into war, arguing that the S-300 had no relevance to Assad’s civil-war battles against rebel groups.
“We are very much concerned about this; the large Russian community in Israel is a major factor in our attitude to Israel, and we will not let this happen,” the official told The Sunday Times.
In return, the official said, the Russians expected Israel to refrain from carrying out additional air strikes on Syria, like the two the IDF reportedly conducted earlier in May, destroying a convoy carrying advanced Fateh-110 missiles to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Israeli officials have stated repeatedly over the past few weeks that Israel is not interested in a war with Syria, but would do everything to prevent the transfer of weapons from the Assad regime to Hezbollah.
“The Israeli government has acted responsibly and prudently to ensure the security of Israeli citizens and to prevent advanced weapons from reaching Hezbollah and [other] terrorist organizations… and we will do so in the future,” Netanyahu said during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.
“The Middle East is in one of its most sensitive periods in decades, primarily Syria,” the prime minister added. “We are monitoring the changes there closely and are prepared for any scenario.”
During a visit to the Atlit naval base Tuesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel’s policy on Syria is clear, “We do not interfere in the civil war, but we will not allow it to enter our territory.”
The Times report contradicted earlier statements by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who declared following the Netanyahu-Putin meeting that Moscow would honor existing contracts with it’s regional ally, including for the air-defense systems. “We’ve already carried out some of the deal,” Lavrov said, “and we will carry the rest of it out in full.”
A failure to honor signed contracts, Lavrov added in a television interview, would “harm the credibility” of Russia in other arms-sales contracts. The deal was said to be worth $800m.
Israel, on Sunday, was set to begin a major defense drill preparing for the possibility of a chemical weapons attack on population centers.