TEL AVIV – Russia’s delivery of the S-300 missile defense system to Syria is a “very serious escalation” of the conflict there, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.
Pompeo’s announcement constituted Washington’s harshest warning to Moscow yet, and follows several U.S. attempts to prevent the delivery from going ahead.
“We consider this a very serious escalation,” Pompeo said. He had previously warned Moscow that Washington would hold Russia “accountable” if it went ahead with the transfer.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton last month warned that the deployment of the S-300 would overturn Syrian skies, which regularly see warplanes from Russia, Israel and the US-led coalition against the Islamic State.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday confirmed the S-300’s delivery during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
“The work was finished a day ago,” Shoigu said at the meeting, which was broadcast by Rossiya 24 TV.
The system will improve the security of Russian military personnel in Syria, Shoigu said, echoing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s words at a UN press conference on Friday.
Russia was “devoted to [ensuring] 100 percent safety and security of our men in Syria,” Lavrov said.
Syria reportedly paid Russia a billion dollars for the S-300 system, according to Israeli public broadcaster Kan. The system will challenge Israel’s ability to target Iranian sites in Syria.
As such, the decision to supply the S-300s to Syria was strongly 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.
Russia transported the 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 world’s second-largest aircraft 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday described Russia’s 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.”