Iranian official: Israel can’t take ‘serious steps’ in Syria because of S-300

Tehran parliamentary speaker says Moscow was right to give advanced air defense system to Damascus, after Russian spy plane was shot down by Syrian military

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Then-Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Then-Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A senior Iranian official on Monday said Israel would be hard-pressed to conduct airstrikes in Syria after Russia provided the country with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

“I do not believe the Israelis are able to undertake any serious steps. It is Russia’s right to deploy the S-300 system in Syria and defend its interests, especially after the Israeli attack on the Russian plane,” Ali Larijani, Iranian speaker of the parliament, told the Kremlin-controlled Russia Today TV station.

“This is a legitimate right of Russia,” he said, speaking to the outlet’s Arabic channel, on the sidelines of the Speakers of Eurasia Countries’ Parliaments conference in Turkey.

The Russian spy plane was shot down on September 17, after Israeli fighter jets conducted an airstrike on a weapons facility in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia, which Israel said was going to provide weapons to the Hezbollah terror group and other Iranian proxies. The Il-20 reconnaissance plane was shot down during a counterattack by Syrian air defenses and its 15 crew members were killed.

A computer simulation released by the Russian Defense Ministry September 23, 2018, purports to show Israeli jets near a Russian reconnaissance plane, in red, off Syria’s coast before it was accidentally shot down by Syria forces responding to the Israeli air strike. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Israel blamed Syria for the downing of the aircraft, accusing the country’s air defenses of firing “indiscriminately” into the sky and continuing to do so long after the fighter jets returned to Israeli airspace.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin initially told reporters that the incident was due to a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” the Russian defense ministry later declared Israel to be at fault, accusing the Israeli pilots of using the spy plane as a cover for their attack and deliberately putting it in harm’s way — something the Israeli Air Force has repeatedly denied.

In response to the incident, Russia delivered a number of S-300 batteries to Syria — something it had agreed to do five years ago, but repeatedly postponed in accordance with Israel’s requests.

Also on Monday, Russia’s state news agency TASS reported that Moscow had provided the advanced S-300 air defense system to Syria’s military free of charge, transferring three battalions with eight launchers each to the Assad regime.

“On October 1, three battalion sets of S-300PM systems of eight launchers each were delivered to Syria,” a military source told the agency.

Screen capture from video showing the delivery of Russian S-300 air defense missiles to Syria. (YouTube)

“These systems were previously deployed at one of the Russian aerospace forces’ regiments which now uses the S-400 Triumf systems. The S-300 systems underwent capital repairs at Russian defense enterprises, are in good condition and are capable of performing combat tasks,” he said.

The source added that the systems were provided free of charge, along with 100 surface-to-air guided missiles for each battalion, 300 in total.

In the weeks since Moscow decided to supply Syria with the S-300 batteries, Russian cargo planes, including the massive Antonov-124, have been spotted making frequent deliveries to the Hmeimim Air Base in Syria.

Satellite image showing a Russian transport plane landing in a Syria air field on October 6, 2018. (ImageSat International)

Israel’s ties with Moscow have become strained following the downing of the spy plane and the delivery of the S-300. Israel and the US are concerned that the delivery of the system could complicate ongoing Israeli efforts to prevent Iran from deepening its military presence in Syria and transferring weapons to Hezbollah.

Israel and its allies for years have lobbied Russia not to give Syria and other regional players the S-300 system, arguing that it would limit Israel’s ability to neutralize threats, notably those posed by the Iran-backed, Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.

The S-300 system, considered one of the most advanced in the world, has a radius of some 200 kilometers, meaning a battery placed near Damascus would cover much of Israel.

Last Thursday, US General Joseph Votel, who heads the US Central Command, called the Russian S-300 deployment in Syria a “needless escalation.”

Moscow has reportedly been working to open avenues of communication between Jerusalem and Tehran to reduce tensions and friction in Syria. Citing a senior Russian source, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported Saturday that this came in light of Moscow’s decision to provide the Assad regime with the S-300.

Adam Rasgon, Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.

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