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PM: Israel sees S-300 sale to Iran with ‘utmost gravity’

Also protesting Iran’s ‘Death to Israel’ incitement, Netanyahu warns at cabinet meeting: ‘Israel will do all that is necessary to protect’ its citizens

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) talks to the press during the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, on April 19, 2015 (photo credit: AFP/POOL/MENAHEM KAHANA)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) talks to the press during the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, on April 19, 2015 (photo credit: AFP/POOL/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel treated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to supply advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran with “utmost gravity.”

“Israel views with utmost gravity the supply of S-300 missiles from Russia to Iran, especially at a time when Iran is stepping up its aggression in the region and around the borders of the State of Israel,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The prime minister also reiterated Israel’s stance about the framework long-term nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, saying it didn’t address Iran’s regional military aspirations.

“Israel also views with utmost gravity the fact that there is no reference to this aggression in the agreement being made between the major powers and Iran,” he said. “There is no stipulation that this aggression be halted, whether at the start of the agreement or as a condition for the lifting of sanctions. Yesterday we saw the military parade in Tehran and Iran’s exhibition of weapons to the world. Every year the missiles are bigger and enhanced – in accuracy, strength and deadliness; however, one thing does not change.

“What does not change is the inscription ‘Death to Israel’ on the missiles,” Netanyahu added. “Against the threats that I have described, Israel will do whatever is necessary to defend the security of the state and its citizens.”

(Iran on Saturday marked Army Day with a military parade featuring new weapons systems, as well as a truck carrying a massive banner reading “Death to Israel.” A televised broadcast of the parade was punctuated by repeated cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”)

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to Israeli media reports to the effect that Jerusalem was considering arms sales to Ukraine in response to the planned S-300 supply, warning Israel against such a “counterproductive” move.

Netanyahu spoke with Putin on Thursday, but failed to convince to halt the sale. Channel 2 reported that he may go to Moscow to meet with Putin in person to try to persuade him against it.

Putin defended his decision to sell the system to the Iranians, saying Russia’s 2010 ban against it was voluntary and not connected to other sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

US officials say the sale is more a sign of Russia’s economic woes and less a desire to cause controversy in the West.

Russia has found itself under a mounting series of sanctions from the West since it annexed Crimea last March and was then accused of supporting militants fighting Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine.

“It actually does indicate that Russia’s willingness to engage in a controversial transaction like this one is an indication of how weakened their economy has become,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.

“It isn’t a particular surprise that Russia may be pretty desperate to generate some income,” Earnest told reporters.

Iran has said Russia could deliver sophisticated missile systems to Tehran this year.

US President Barack Obama said Friday he was surprised that Russia’s suspension of missile sales to Iran “held this long.”

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.”

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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