US: Russian sale of S-300s to Syria ‘a serious escalation’

Ignoring Israeli protests against providing missile batteries to Damascus, Moscow says it has completed delivery of advanced air defense system

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017.  (AP/Alex Brandon)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP/Alex Brandon)

The US State Department said Tuesday that it could not confirm Russia had delivered the S-300 air defense systems to Syria, but that it would be a “concern” if it had.

“I hope that they did not,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington when asked about the Russian Defense Ministry announcement claiming the delivery of the S-300 to Syria had been completed.

“That would be sort of a serious escalation,” Nauert said.

Russia announced last week that it would boost security measures in Syria following the downing of a Russian military plane by an S-200 missile by mistake, which Moscow blamed on nearby Israeli planes.

On Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks that four S-300 launchers along with radars and support vehicles had been delivered to Syrian troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visit the military Patriot Park in Kubinka, outside Moscow, on September 19, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Alexey NIKOLSKY)

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 carried out hundreds of strikes against Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria over the last several years, with fighter jets going nearly unchallenged by the country’s air defenses — though an F-16 was downed by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile in February in what the IDF later said was the result of a professional error by the pilots.

A senior Israeli official said Saturday that Syria’s possession of the S-300 posed a “complex challenge” for the Jewish state, but added that Israel was working on ways to prevent the development from becoming a major threat to the country’s security.

“We are dealing with the [decision] in different ways, not necessarily by preventing shipment [of the anti-aircraft system],” the official said.

The official added that he believes Putin understands that while Moscow “made a move, the playing field is very large,” indicating that Israel reserved the right to protect itself and that it had the support of the United States.

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

The system, considered on 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday criticized Russia’s move as “irresponsible,” but said Israel was committed to continued deconfliction with Moscow in its military operations in the region.

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