Russia anti-aircraft missiles to Syria: Israel hints at another air strike
JERUSALEM - Israel "will know what to do" if Russia delivers anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, its defence minister said Tuesday, in an apparent allusion to another air strike on the war-torn neighbouring country.
"The deliveries have not taken place, and I hope they do not. But if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do," Moshe Yaalon said.
His comments came after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said providing the missiles to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would be a "stabilising factor" aimed at deterring any foreign intervention in Syria.
Speaking in Moscow, Ryabkov said "we consider these supplies a stabilising factor and believe such steps will deter some hotheads from considering scenarios that would turn the conflict international with the involvement of outside forces."
Earlier this month, Israel launched air raids inside Syria targeting what sources said were arms destined for its arch foe, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, whose fighters have entered the conflict alongside the Syrian army.
The strikes ramped up regional tension, with Syria threatening to hit back.
Israel and Russia's opposing standpoints over Syria surfaced shortly afterwards, with the Jewish state criticising Russian arms deals with Assad, and Moscow appearing to warn against further Israeli strikes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Moscow on May 14 for a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the matter.
Netanyahu had been expected to warn Putin against delivering advanced S-300 missiles to Syria -- the type which Yaalon referred to on Tuesday -- which would severely complicate any future air attacks against Assad's regime.
He did not mention the sensitive weapons in public but stressed that it was his country's task to defend its citizens.
After the meeting, in an allusion to the air strikes on Syria, Putin said that, "in this crucial period, it is especially important to avoid any moves that can shake the situation."
Later that week, Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni took a strong public line on Russian weapons shipments, criticising arms deals with Damascus.
"The transfer of arms to Syria is clearly not positive and does not contribute to the stability of the region," Livni said on May 17.
That came a day after CIA chief John Brennan paid a surprise visit to Israel, which coincided with US media reports of further arms shipments from Moscow.
Brennan met Yaalon, who reaffirmed that Israel "will not permit the transfer of weapons" from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The New York Times quoted senior US officials the same day as saying Moscow had dispatched an advanced version of the Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles Russia has previously provided to Syria.
And The Wall Street Journal reported that Russia had sent a dozen warships to patrol around its naval base in Syria.