31 May 2013, 13:06

S-300 a purely defensive weapon – Pushkov

Алексей Пушков
Alexei Pushkov, head of Russian Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee
Alexei Pushkov, head of Russian Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee

Even as speculations are rife on the first delivery of Russia’s advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles for Bashar al-Assad, Israel has pledged to take preventive action and neutralize Syria’s missile shield before it becomes operational. Alexei Pushkov, head of Russian Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has shared his take on the possible outcome of the Syrian peace conference and Israel’s sabotage threats.

“The S-300 is a defensive weapon, and Israel has no right whatsoever to neutralize a defensive system deployed on the turf of another sovereign state,” Mr. Pushkov told the Voice of Russia.

“I won’t be surprised that an Israeli offensive triggers a Syrian response followed by a new, large-scale war in the Middle East, which will spill over Syria’s national border.

I believe the US should push Israel to abstain from such irresponsible steps. Again, it is a defensive weapon, and it poses no threat to Israel.

Israeli air strikes against Syria, on the contrary, are absolutely inadmissible, because Syria so far hasn’t been hostile to Israel.”

Mr. Pushkov said he believed Israel’s overreaction could force the war zone borders to spread closer to the Israeli state.

“My feeling is that Israel should check its rhetoric on this situation from now on,” the lawmaker concluded.

Syria's Assad vows retaliation for future Israeli strikes

President Bashar Assad has said that Syria “will respond in kind” to any future Israeli airstrike on its territory and expressed confidence in the victory over the foes of the Syrian state. The Syrian government has been criticized for its muted response to recent Israeli airstrikes on several facilities in Syria in alleged attempts to stop shipments of missiles bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group.

Assad said there was "popular pressure" to open a military front against Israel on the Golan Heights but such a move would require serious political, social and military deliberation.

Assad reiterated his support for an international conference on Syria, which Russia and the United States attempt to put together in Geneva, but stressed that any outcome of this or any other Syria-related discussions by the international community must be “subject to the approval of the Syrian people through a popular referendum.”

Asked about the the deliveries of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Syria, Assad simply said Russia is committed to honoring the existing defense contracts with Syria.

Israel vows to stop Syria’s S-300 missile shield from becoming operational

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells European foreign ministers that if the Russian missile systems get into Syria, Israel's 'entire airspace will become a no-fly zone' and therefore it 'cannot stand idly by.'

Israel's National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror sketched out what Jerusalem's "red line" is vis-à-vis the S-300 missile systems Russia intends to send to Syria before the 27 European Union ambassadors in Israel.

Two diplomats who were in the room during the briefing last Thursday, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was a closed event, said that Amidror stressed Israel will act "to prevent the S-300 missiles from becoming operational" on Syrian soil. This message was also conveyed by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon when he said on Tuesdaythat if the missiles reach Syria "Israel will know what to do."

Amidror's briefing, the diplomats said, made it clear that Israel estimates that sooner or later Russia will provide Syria with the missile systems and for reasons unrelated to Israel - namely Russian rivalry with the U.S., Britain and France on the Syrian issue. "We understood from Amidror that the Israeli government thinks the missile transfer cannot be prevented, therefore it will act against them after the transfer but before they become operational," one of the diplomats said.

Israel pledges not to attack targets in Russia amid S-300 shipment

Anonymous high-ranking Israeli diplomat told The Guardian that Israel won't be happy to learn that Syria gets S-300 missiles. “But we can't prevent Russia from shipping its arms to the Middle East”, the diplomat added. “We won't attack targets in Russia. We are quite egocentric but not to that extent”, the paper quoted the diplomat.

The source stressed, however, that he did not know whether Russians would get upset in case something goes wrong after the purchasing of the missiles and before their deployment in Damascus.

“I do not think that Russians will even care about it unless none of their citizens is injured”, the diplomat said.

A senior Israeli official said on Thursday that the S-300 missile systems “do not just come in a box” and that different elements would probably be delivered in stages.

It was possible, he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic constraints, that some parts had arrived in Syria, but he added that there was no indication at this stage that the systems were anywhere near operational.

Robert Hewson, editor of IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, said it was plausible that some parts of the S-300s had already arrived in Syria:

The whole thing is a collection of vehicles. You have a launcher, radar and a command and control vehicle. You need all of that working together ... If your plan is to waltz into Syrian airspace and start bombing things this is a big wrinkle.

Hewson also said the Russians would inevitably supply military advisers who would work closely with the Syrian military and train them how to use the system:

There is a big danger that if you blow the S-300 up you will kill a lot of Russians. I don't think the Israelis want to do that. This is Russia operating at a big international level and saying: 'Assad is still our guy and we stand beside him.'

An Israeli diplomat told the Guardian Israel would “act against” the missiles after they were transferred to Syria but before they became operational.

But an Israeli military expert said it was unlikely Assad actually had the S-300s: "It's hard to believe that these huge weapons systems could be delivered to Assad without Israeli intelligence noticing. Anything is possible - but it's very, very unlikely."

Israel is worried that the anti-aircraft missiles could be used to strike its own territory or put its civilian or military aircraft at risk, could stop it striking Syria at will or flying over Lebanon, or could fall into the hands of Hezbollah, or whoever eventually replaces Assad if he is toppled.

In comments not directly related to Syria, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said Israel was “preparing for the worst” and faced “a cluster of new threats”.

No S-300 missiles for Syria yet - Moscow

Russia has not delivered any S-300 air defense missiles to Syria and it is not yet clear whether they may get there this year, the Moscow-based Vedomosti newspaper reports, citing a source in the Defense Ministry. The contract for the delivery of the high-precision missiles was signed back in 2010 before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

On Wednesday an arms export official told Interfax news agency that Russia would honor its contractual obligations to ship the S-300 complexes to Syria but added that none had been shipped so far.

Asked about the the deliveries of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Syria, Syrian President Bashar Assad simply said Russia is committed to honoring the existing defense contracts with Syria.

President Bashar Assad doesn't have S-300 yet

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad didn't say that Russian S-300 advanced missile systems have already begun arriving in his country, Fox News reported on Thursday. The report cited two senior U.S. officials privy to sensitive intelligence matters.

They spoke to Fox News after Assad was quoted as having told Hizbullah’s television network Al-Manar that, despite the portrayal by the media of a deal for advanced missiles to be purchased from Russia as a future event, the fact is that Syria has already begun acquiring the S-300 missile system from Moscow.

Fox News noted two different transcripts of the Al-Manar interview that were released, one in which Assad claims that Syria already received the S-300, and a second one released later in which he used more careful, general language.

Assad was initially quoted as saying "Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets," noted the network.

The second transcript was inconclusive and in it, Assad was quoted as saying, "There are many arms agreements between us and the Russians from a long time. The Russians are committed to their agreements. All that was agreed with Russia will be implemented and part of it has been already done. We and the Russians are in agreement and we will continue to be like this."

Retired ambassador Yossi Ben-Aharon, formerly the Deputy Director-General of the Foreign Ministry and Director-General of the Prime Minster's Office, also predicted that Assad was likely bluffing.

"Anything that President Bashar al-Assad says should be checked for veracity," Ben-Aharon told Arutz Sheva radio. "He is in dire straits. He is probably trying to set up some type of protective wall in case Israel sees a need to attack a shipment of armaments from Syria to the Hizbullah. He could be deliberately misleading.”

He added, "We do not have information that the S-300 missiles have indeed arrived in Syria."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Russian leader Vladimir Putin two weeks ago, in an effort to forestall the transfer of the missiles to Syria. He reportedly told Putin that the missiles could be used to threaten Israeli civilian air traffic, among other things.

In recent days, there have been reports that the transfer of the advanced systems would not be carried out. However, Moscow said this week that it still plans to deliver the S-300 to Damascus, explaining the deliveries were part of existing contracts.

Voice of Russia, RIA, Interfax, NY Times, The Guardian


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