Russia says it has started delivery of S-300s to Syria

Announcement by FM Lavrov comes amid crisis in ties with Israel, just days after Moscow said it would supply Assad regime with air-defense system following downing of spy plane

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a press briefing at the United Nations during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 28, 2018. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a press briefing at the United Nations during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 28, 2018. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)

Russia has begun supplying the S-300 air-defense system to Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday, despite Israeli protestations of the weapons delivery.

Lavrov was asked about the S-300s during a news conference at the United Nations and responded: “The deliveries started already.”

He added that “the measures we will take will be devoted to ensure 100 percent safety and security of our men in Syria, and we will do this.”

The announcement by Lavrov came days after Russia said it would transfer the advanced anti-aircraft battery to Syria following the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli air strike on a weapons facility earlier this month.

The Russian defense ministry, which announced the planned supply Monday, had said the delivery would take place within two weeks.

Additionally, Russia said it would begin jamming radars of military planes striking targets in Syria from off the coast of the Mediterranean.

Russian electronic warfare equipment intended to disrupt airstrikes has already arrived in Syria, according to Russian media reports. According to the Moscow-based Izvestia daily newspaper, the electronic warfare equipment arrived at Hmeimim Air Base near Latakia on Monday, aboard Il-76 transport aircraft. Without detailing exactly what was sent, the sources noted that the systems were intended to disrupt airborne radar, aircraft communication and controls and satellite navigation systems used in attack jets, drones and guided munitions.

Both Israel and the United States have protested the decision to supply Syria with the S-300, which could complicate ongoing Israeli efforts to prevent Iran deepening its military presence in Syria and to thwart the transfer of weapons in Syria to Hezbollah.

Israel has vowed to continue its operations. In New York this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after meeting Donald Trump that the US president gave him various unspecified guarantees regarding its freedom of operation in Syria. “I received what I asked for. I came with specific points and I got them,” he told reporters.

In this file photo taken on Tuesday, August 27, 2013, a Russian air defense missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

On Tuesday, Syria’s deputy foreign minister said the S-300s would make Israel think carefully before launching strikes in the country.

Israel, “which is accustomed to launching many aggressions under different pretexts, will have to make accurate calculations if it thinks to attack Syria again,” Faisal Mekdad, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

Israel has carried our hundreds of attacks against Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria over the last several years, with fighter jets going nearly unchallenged by the country’s air defenses.

Jerusalem has vowed to prevent Lebanon-based Hezbollah or Iranian proxy militias in Syria from obtaining advance weapons that could threaten the Jewish state and has worked to keep Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria that can be used to attack Israel.

Russia, which is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has maintained a deconfliction hotline with Israel, allowing the Jewish state to carry out the attacks as long as it was informed beforehand.

The future of that program has been under a cloud since the September 17 incident, which occurred as four Israeli fighter jets conducted an airstrike on the weapons warehouse near the coastal city of Latakia, which the IDF said was going to provide weapons to the Hezbollah terror group and other Iranian proxies.

The remains of a Syrian ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

Moscow has accused Israel of using the IL-20 spy plane as a shield after the attack, rejecting Israel’s claims that poorly trained Syrian air defense operators are to blame for the deaths of 15 Russian servicemen aboard the aircraft.

Israel denies this, and insists it also notified the Russians 12 minutes before the attack — far longer than Moscow claims.

Israeli fighter pilots have trained for years for evading S-300 air defense missiles.

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