Following Syrian reports that embattled Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had received his first shipment of powerful S-300 air defense missiles from Russia, missiles that could change not only the complexion of the Syrian civil war, but also bolster Syria’s ability to throw its weight around regionally, officials are now saying “not so fast.”
According to a Channel 2 report, the officials said that Russia has yet to transfer any S-300 missile shipments to Syria and that, public statements notwithstanding, Moscow might not do so. Other Hebrew media outlets quoted unnamed Israeli officials echoing the same assertion, and describing Assad as “bluffing.”
American officials quoted by AP said they had no evidence that the Assad regime had received a shipment of S-300s.
The Israeli sources also said that Syria has only paid for a third of the S-300 contract. They added that even if the deal is eventually honored, it would take months for the S-300 batteries to be operational.
Meanwhile, Assad’s comment earlier today spurred a series of reports about the likelihood of an Israeli attack on the weapons.
Haaretz quoted National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror as warning European diplomats that Israel would “prevent the S-300 missiles from becoming operational”. That may be achieved by ensuring Assad does not get the full system, experts say, or by disabling it militarily if he does.
“The S-300 would be the pinnacle of Russian-supplied arms for Syria,” Colonel Zvika Haimovich, a senior Israeli air force officer, told Reuters in an interview. “Though it would impinge on our operations, we are capable of overcoming it.”
He said Israel’s “red line” on the S-300 was “between Syria and others”. This was a hint Israel might hold off on bombing the batteries as long they did not appear set on shooting down planes within Israeli airspace, of being transferred to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas or to Iran – both staunch allies of Assad and enemies of Israel, or of being looted by Islamist rebels.