A top Israeli defense official said Saturday that the S-300 missile system Tehran is shortly to acquire from Russia is an offensive, not a defensive, weapon, since it encourages Iranian aggression in the region.

Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry’s political-security division, also said that the S-300 aerial defense system that Russia has announced it will supply to Iran poses a challenge for Israel.

“It’s not a defensive weapon,” Gilad, a former IDF major-general, said at an event in the southern city of Beersheba. “It’s an unfortunate decision which encourages aggression and the violent methods of the Iranian government.”

Both Israeli and American officials have said military action remains on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but the more sophisticated air defense systems could complicate a last resort assault to thwart Tehran’s nuclear drive. Israel also fears Iran could supply the missile defense systems to Syria or Hezbollah, diluting Israel’s air supremacy over Syria and Lebanon.

Gilad also warned, at the same event, of the possibility of war erupting on the northern border, and said Hezbollah had a 100,000-strong missile arsenal, Army Radio reported. However, he counseled against the idea of a preemptive strike.

The Defense Ministry official’s remarks on the S-300 threat appeared to respond to comments reportedly made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week. Netanyahu called Putin to protest Moscow’s lifting of a ban on sale of S-300s to Tehran. Putin reportedly replied that the S-300 served defensive purposes only and didn’t constitute a threat to Israel’s security.

Russian army S-300 air-defense missiles move during a final rehearsal of a Victory Day parade at Red Square, Moscow, May 2008. (photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev, File)

Russian army S-300 air-defense missiles move during a final rehearsal of a Victory Day parade at Red Square, Moscow, May 2008. (photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev, File)

Gilad’s remarks echoed those made by a senior Israeli Air Force commander, who called the air defense systems “a challenge” for the IAF and any possible attempt to strike Iran. Nonetheless, the IAF commander called the missiles a “surmountable” obstacle.

“The Air Force is preparing for an array of scenarios, including with this system. In the event that it will need to provide a response, the Air Force will know how to respond to the challenge,” Brig. Gen. Lihu HaCohen told reporters earlier this week.

Iran on Saturday touted that it had developed a domestic version of the S-300 missile system which exceeded the capabilities of the Russian originals.

Moscow has stated that a preliminary agreement between the P5+1 world powers and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program reached earlier this month rendered the ban on missile sales no longer relevant.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama said he was surprised that Russia’s suspension of missile sales to Iran “held this long,” a comment that left Israeli analysts shocked and amazed.

Obama noted that Putin had previously suspended the sale “at our request. I am frankly surprised that it held this long, given that they were not prohibited by sanctions from selling these defensive weapons.”