The Russian ambassador to the United Nations said that the sale of sophisticated S-300 air defense missiles to Syria is not the start of an arms race and recommended Israel stay calm over the deal.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour broadcast on Tuesday night, Vitaly Churkin suggested that Israel consider the risks involved in taking action against the missile delivery.
“The Israelis will keep a cool head and refrain from reckless actions,” he said, adding that in the past Russia has responded to Israeli concerns about advanced weapons shipments falling into the wrong hands by guaranteeing that the arms only go to their intended destinations and not to third parties.
On Tuesday Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon decried the planned transfer of the advanced weapons to Damascus and delivered an ominous warning .
“The missiles are a threat,” he said, adding that at the moment the deal was moving at a slow pace. He said he knew for a fact that the missile systems had not yet been delivered, and “let’s hope it doesn’t happen. But if it does, we’ll know what to do.”
“The weapons are for regional stability,” Churkin said, and argued that the missiles will be a benefit to the area, rather than making matters worse. “They are not for domestic use. They can deter foreign intervention.”
Churkin said that by removing the element of outside intervention from Syria’s civil war, the focus will hopefully turn to a diplomatic solution instead of continued battle.
The ambassador also reported that Russia has Syrian assurances that it will attend a Russian- and US-brokered peace conference scheduled for Geneva next month that will aim to negotiate an end to the fighting, which has killed over 80,000 people and generated over a million refugees.
The Russian diplomat rejected the suggestion that the arms deal is meant to shore up President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime and insisted that the contracts for supplying the weapons were inked in 2007.
“They come from contracts concluded long before the conflict began,” he said.
Israel has campaigned to try and block the missile sale and two weeks ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in a last-ditch attempt to deter the Russians from supplying the systems.
On Tuesday the White House issued a rare condemnation of Russia for continuing with the missile contract and said that the move would contribute to continued violence rather than bring it to an end.
Minister of Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz on Tuesday rebutted the claim that the S-300 missiles are purely defensive, saying that, for Israel, they are also “offensive.”
“Why? Because with range of up to 200 or 300 kilometers, you can attack all places, also the Ben Gurion Airport.” Jerusalem also worries about the missiles falling into the hands of Hezbollah or Iran, he said.