Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that Moscow’s sale of a sophisticated missile defense system to President Bashar Assad could push the Middle East into war.
Netanyahu, who flew to meet Putin for emergency talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, told the Russian president that the S-300 had no relevance to Assad’s civil-war battles against rebel groups, and urged Moscow not to deliver the systems, Channel 2 reported on Wednesday night.
He said that if acquired by Assad, the S-300 — a state-of-the-art system that can intercept fighter jets and cruise missiles — “is likely to draw us into a response, and could send the region deteriorating into war,” the Channel 2 report said.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, asked last week about possible sales of the S-300 to Assad, said cagily: “Russia is not planning to sell. Russia has been selling for a long time, has signed contracts and is completing deliveries of technology that consists of anti-aircraft systems.”
Lavrov said the weapons were to help Syria defend itself against air attacks. Israel suspects that Russia plans to sell Damascus six S-300 missile batteries, as well as 144 missiles, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Netanyahu, who flew to meet Putin despite have only just returned from a trip to China, took with him his National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and the head of military intelligence in the IDF Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin went too, to help with translations.
Netanyahu also briefed Putin on Israel’s intel assessment of Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use. He also filled the president in on Israel’s information concerning Syria’s transfer of arms to Hezbollah.
At a brief joint press conference, the Russian president said that the only way to resolve the crisis was via “the soonest end to armed conflict and the beginning of political settlement.”
He added: “At this sensitive moment, it’s particularly important to avoid any action that could destabilize the situation.”
Netanyahu, however, said that the volatile situation in the Middle East requires action to improve security. “The region around us is very unstable and explosive, and therefore I am glad for the opportunity to examine together new ways to stabilize the area and bring security and stability to the area,” he said. The prime minister’s bottom line was that “Israel will do whatever it takes to defend its citizens.”
Russia has continued to ship weapons to Syria, despite the civil war there, but it so far has refrained from providing Damascus with the S-300s, which has a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles), and the capability to track down and strike multiple targets simultaneously with lethal efficiency.
The weapon would mean a quantum leap in Syria’s air defense capability, including against neighboring countries.
Israel reportedly attacked suspected shipments of advanced Iranian weaponry — the Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missile — in Syria with back-to-back airstrikes this month. Israeli officials signaled there would be more attacks unless Syria refrains from trying to deliver such “game-changing” missiles to Hezbollah. Hezbollah said weapons shipments won’t cease.
On Monday, Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau accused Russia of destabilizing the Middle East by selling weapons to Assad’s regime. “Anyone who provides weaponry to terror organizations is siding with terror,” Landau said.