TEL AVIV – Over the past week, Russia has been transporting S-300 air defense systems to Syria using the Antonov An-124 Ruslan, one of the largest military planes in the world.
The giant aircraft, also known as the Condor, is the second-largest plane in the world after the Antonov An-225 Mriya, also Russian-made. The Ruslan, which weighs 192 tons and has a wingspan of 240 feet, was spotted by aviation enthusiasts on the Russia-Syria route.
During a press briefing at the UN, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia would supply the S-300, saying his country was “devoted to [ensuring] 100 percent safety and security of our men in Syria.”
The decision to supply the S-300s to Syria was criticized by Israel.
“The S-300 is a complex challenge for the State of Israel. We are dealing with the [decision] in different ways, not necessarily by preventing shipment [of the anti-aircraft system],” an Israeli official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday described the move as “irresponsible.”
He added, however, that he was committed to repairing fraying ties between Russia and Israel following the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike last week, which Russia blamed on Israel.
“Since the tragic events in the skies over Syria, I have spoken twice with President Putin. I expressed to him our deep regret over the loss of the crew of the Russian plane that was brought down by irresponsible Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” Netanyahu told reporters.
Netanyahu said he told Putin, “Let’s continue this deconfliction, but at the same time, I told him very respectfully and very clearly that Israel will do, will continue to do what it has to do to defend itself.”
The Antonov was first spotted on Thursday, and several more flights were made over the ensuing three days, Ynet reported. A second plane, which was detected by real-time tracking software, appeared to have landed in the Latakia airbase on Friday just after 9pm, about two hours before Lavrov made his announcement. On Monday evening, a third transport plane landed at the airstrip.
The plane was previously used to deliver aid to Syria.