Defense Secretary Moshe Ya’alon has stated that Israel’s military is prepared to strike shipments of advanced weapons from Russia to Syria. Yaalon’s statement revved up tensions with Moscow over the planned sale of S-300 air-defense missiles to Syria. Earlier in the day, a top Russian official said Russia remained committed to the deal.
“The shipments haven’t set out yet and I hope they won’t,” Ya’alon said. “If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do.”
Israel has a lot at stake in Syria’s war as Hezbollah — one of Israel’s biggest enemies in the region — has also allied itself to Assad’s regime, making the weapons transfer between Russia and Syria a particularly threatening move. Israel has long been lobbying Moscow to stop the sale of arms as it fears missiles could land in the hands of Hezbollah or other hostile groups.
Here are the facts you need to know about Israel’s new threat to Russia and its role in Syria’s civil war.
1. Russia is a Key Ally to the Assad Regime
Russia has been the key ally of the Syrian regime, protecting it from United Nations sanctions and providing it with weapons despite the civil war there that has claimed over 70,000 lives.
2. Israel Does Not Support Assad OR Rebel Factions
ince the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, Israel repeatedly has voiced concerns that Syria’s sophisticated arsenal, including chemical weapons, could either be transferred to Hezbollah, a bitter enemy of Israel, or fall into the hands of rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad. The rebels include Al Qaeda-affiliated groups that Israel believes could turn their attention toward Israel if they topple Assad. Israel’s involvement in Syria’s war has not included the support of rebel fighters. Their main concern has been Israel’s own security.
3. Open Confrontation Between Israel and Russia Would be Months Away
An open confrontation between Israel and Russia would not be immediate. Russian military analysts say it would take at least one year for Syrian crews to learn how to operate the S-300s, and the training will involve a live drill with real ammunition at a Russian shooting range. There has been no evidence that any such training has begun.
Also, if Russia were to deliver the missiles to Syria, Israeli and Western intelligence would likely detect the shipment, and Israel would have ample time to strike before the system is deployed.
4. E.U Just Lifted Arms Embargo on Rebel Factions in Syria
Hours after Russia disclosed that it has signed a contract to provide the Syrian government with missiles, the EU lifted an arms embargo on Syria. This means the European Union has decided that they can provide weapons to the rebels. With Russia giving weapons to Assad and the potential of the EU giving weapons to rebels, this could significantly raise the firepower in the two-year-civil war – especially if peace talks scheduled to take place in Geneva next month fail.
5. Israel Has Conducted Three Air Strikes on Syria This Year
Israel has conducted three sets of air strikes on Syria this year, aimed at preventing missiles being brought close to its border by the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.