TEL AVIV – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russia’s vice premier that Moscow’s delivery of advanced S-300 air defense systems to Syria would not deter Israel from operating against Iranian targets in Syria.
The Israeli military would continue its “legitimate activity in Syria against Iran and its proxies, which state their intention to destroy us,” Netanyahu said he told Maxim Akimov during a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
He reiterated the warning that Israel would do whatever it needed to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in the war-torn country, including stopping advanced weapons caches from getting into the hands of Iran’s proxy terror group, Hezbollah.
On Monday, it emerged that Russia had supplied Syria with three S-300 anti-aircraft battalion sets with eight launchers and more than 100 surface-to-air guided missiles each free of charge.
“On October 1, three battalion sets of S-300PM systems of eight launchers each were delivered to Syria,” a military source told TASS.
“These systems were previously deployed at one of the Russian aerospace forces’ regiments which now uses the S-400 Triumf systems. The S-300 systems underwent capital repairs at Russian defense enterprises, are in good condition and are capable of performing combat tasks,” he said.
The source added that the systems were provided for free, contradicting an earlier report by Israel’s Kan broadcaster that said Syria payed a billion dollars for the system.
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 U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State.
The battalion sets will challenge Israel’s ability to target Iranian sites in Syria. Each battery has a radius of some 125 miles. As such, the decision to supply the S-300s to Syria was strongly criticized by Jerusalem.
“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.
Tensions between Russia and Israel spiked following the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike last month, which Russia blamed on Israel. Israel has denied the charge, saying that IAF jets were already back in Israeli airspace and that Syria was responsible for the incident, which claimed the lives of fifteen Russian crew.
Netanyahu told Akimov that he had faith the current spat with Moscow would be resolved.
“I think that with common sense and goodwill we can come to a solution that will allow the continuation of the good coordination between the Russian and Israeli militaries,” he said.
At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon.