Russia’s ‘moral obligation’ not to sell air defense to Syria is over — Lavrov

Russian foreign minister blames US attack on Syria for changing rules. Ex-head of Israeli military intelligence: ‘If Syria gets the S-300 system, Israel will blow it up’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a meeting with his Dutch counterpart in Moscow on April 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a meeting with his Dutch counterpart in Moscow on April 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)

The US attack on Syria has absolved Russia of its “moral obligation” to hold back on supplying an advanced air defense system to Syria, the Russian foreign minister said Friday.

His remarks came a day after a former head of Israeli military intelligence said that if Syria obtained the advanced S-300 system, Israeli would probably blow it up.

Sergey Lavrov claimed that the Russians had made their red lines clear to the Americans before the attack by the US, UK and France a week ago.

That attack was launched in response to a suspected gas attack mounted on April 7 on Douma, near Damascus, in which more than 40 people were reported killed. Western powers blame the attack on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

It targeted a scientific research facility near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs, and a third location near Homs that contained both a command post and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility, the US military said.

Lavrov, who delivered a similar message to the BBC on Tuesday, was quoted Friday by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti as saying that the Russians had undertaken not to supply anti-aircraft missile systems to the Syrians some ten years ago but that moral obligation was no longer valid.

On a more conciliatory note, he said he was “convinced” that the US and Russian presidents would not allow a military confrontation between the two countries.

He revealed that US President Donald Trump had last month invited his counterpart Vladimir Putin to visit the US during a telephone call between the two. The invitation was issued before the attack on Syria.

On Thursday, former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told the Bloomberg news service that the S-300 system would be deployed at some point, and that, “if I know the air force well, we have already made proper plans to deal with this threat. After you remove the threat, which is basically what will be done, we’re back to square one.”

Amos Yadlin. (Flash90)

The Russian-made S-300 system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, offering long-range protection against both airplanes and missiles. The system has been supplied by Moscow to Tehran, and deployed by the Russian army in Syria, and Israeli officials have expressed concerns that selling it to Damascus could weaken Israel’s regional air supremacy.

It was in response to Israeli pleas that Putin froze a contract to supply the missiles to Syria, Bloomberg reported, although he said at the time that Moscow would “think how we should act in the future” in the event of a US attack.

Last Monday, Israel allegedly struck the T-4 air base in central Syria where Iran has reportedly been building a fully functional air base of its own and where it has centered its attack drone operations. The base was reportedly protected by surface-to-air missile defense systems.

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