Russia said to warn of ‘catastrophic’ result if Israel hits its S-300s in Syria
The sources told the newspaper that if Israel tried to destroy the anti-aircraft batteries — as analysts have indicated Israel likely would — it would be “catastrophic for all sides.” But Russian Foreign Minister later said no decision had yet been made on whether to give the S-300s to Syria, and added that it would not keep such a delivery a secret. “We’ll have to wait to see what specific decisions the Russian leadership and representatives of Syria will take,” he said, according to a TASS report quoted by Reuters.
Moscow announced last week that it was considering reversing its longtime policy against supplying the S-300 system to the regime. The statement came following a series of airstrikes against Syrian targets by the United States, United Kingdom and France earlier this month in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
The apparent chemical attack against the then-rebel-held city of Douma in central Syria killed at least 40 people, including children. Western powers blame the attack on Assad’s regime. “A few years ago at the request of our partners, we decided not to supply S-300s to Syria,” Lavrov told the BBC last week. “Now that this outrageous act of aggression was undertaken by the US, France and UK, we might think how to make sure that the Syrian state is protected.”
Russia had originally agreed to sell the system to Syria in 2010, but scrapped the plan at Israel’s behest. Lavrov’s comments to the BBC indicated that the impetus for Russia to reverse its decision and give Assad the S-300 was not the airstrike allegedly conducted by Israel on April 9, but the American-French-British attack on April 13. According to Kommersant’s report, Russia will not be selling Assad the S-300 system, but rather providing it at no cost as part of a military aid package in order to hasten the delivery.
The Russian-made system, made up of radar arrays and missile launchers, offers long-range protection against both fighter jets and missiles. The system has been supplied by Moscow to Tehran, and deployed by the Russian army in Syria, alongside its more advanced iteration: the S-400. It was not immediately clear if Russia would bring in new S-300 systems to Syria or if it would simply give over control of the batteries already in the country.
The Kommersant report noted that in any case it would take at least several months from its reception before Syrian soldiers would be fully trained on the system and capable of using it. Israeli officials have expressed concerns that selling the S-300 system to Damascus could weaken Israel’s regional air supremacy. Therefore, Israel might look to destroy the defense system, preferably before it is set up and made operational. Israel’s former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, who currently heads the influential Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said he assumed the air force would work quickly to destroy the S-300.