Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Manar TV on Thursday that “there is
pressure by the people to open a new front on the Golan.”
“Even among the
Arab world there is a clear readiness to join the fight against Israel,” he
added in his interview with the Hezbollah TV station.
Assad stated that
Hezbollah is involved in fighting the Israeli enemy and its agents in Syria and
Lebanon, according to the text of the interview on the Al-Manar website. He
attributed the failure of the Syrian opposition to its dependence on outside
funding and said that it failed to create a real rift in the
Assad also said that he sees the balance of power in Syria
shifting to the government’s side. And this despite the fact that the
“terrorists” – how Assad refers to the rebels – are smuggling fighters and
weapons through all of the borders.
In relation to Israel, he
said, “If we want to respond to Israel, the response must be
Earlier on Thursday, Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar quoted
Assad as saying that Syria had already received the first shipment of Russian
antiaircraft S-300 rockets.
Speaking about the delivery of the S-300 to
Syria, Assad told Al-Manar that Russia is “committed to the deal and neither
[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s visit nor the current crisis will
influence the importing of arms.”
“The contracts with Russia are not
linked to the crisis and Russia is committed to implementing these contracts,”
he said. “Everything we have agreed on with Russia will take place, and part of
it has already taken place.”
More of the missiles would arrive soon, he
was quoted as saying.
A source close to Russia’s Defense Ministry said
there had been a “bank transfer” in connection with the S-300 transaction, but
that Russian banks were becoming increasingly nervous about dealing with
Israel spoke with Russia on Thursday morning amid reports that
Assad’s forces had received a shipment of S- 300 missiles from
Jerusalem has yet to confirm the arrival of the missiles, which
have a 200-km. range with the capacity to hit planes in northern Israel. It
would create a no-fly zone that would make it impossible for the Israel Air
Force to operate along the Syrian and Lebanese border, precisely at a moment
when both countries are more volatile.
Israel is investigating the
report, while Channels 2 and 10 reported they did not believe the missiles had
Netanyahu personally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin not
to deliver the missiles when he visited Moscow earlier this month.
Thursday morning, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz held a prearranged
meeting with Russian Ambassador to Israel Sergey Yakovlevich and raised the
issue of the S-300s.
Russia has maintained that the missiles are
defensive and are needed by Assad’s forces in their battle against rebel groups
in that country. On Wednesday, Steinitz said the missiles could also be used as
At the end of Steinitz’s meeting with Yakovlevich, his
office said that the men discussed bilateral and strategic issues in the region.
They agreed that Israel and Russia would “maintain an ongoing dialogue and
cooperate,” his office said.
Steinitz’s office released the positive
message, even though Russia had announced only on Tuesday that it intended to
ship the S- 300 to Syria.
There is some speculation that Moscow did so in
direct response to the European Union’s decision on Monday to lift its arms
embargo to Syrian rebel forces.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu spoke of
the dangers facing Israel from missile attacks from the Syrian, Lebanese and
Gazan borders when he attended a meeting of the Emergency Economy Committee,
where they discussed Tuesday’s national emergency drill.
“We are deep in
the era of missiles that are aimed at civilian population areas,” Netanyahu
said. “We must prepare defensively and offensively for the new era of warfare.
The State of Israel is the most threatened state in the world. Around us are
tens of thousands of missiles and rockets that could hit our home
Russia’s sale of the S-300 missiles has not stopped it from
working with the United States to hold an international peace conference in
Geneva that would include representatives from Assad’s government and the rebel
“On June 5 in Geneva, US, Russian and UN officials will hold a
three-way meeting to further the preparations for the international conference
on Syria,” a spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.
Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, said he did not understand how Russia could both arm Assad and work
toward a peace conference.
The S-300 is an offensive weapon, said
Menendez, who opposes its shipment to Assad.
“It changes the equation,”
Menendez said, who visited Israel this week and spoke with Netanyahu and
President Shimon Peres about regional threats from Syria and
Menendez said that he supports sending arms and supplies to the
moderate rebel forces fighting Assad and added that, at this point, the
different groups in Syria were well known and that it was possible to send arms
to specific groups.
It was his understanding from speaking with the
Israelis that they are not involved in Syria, Menendez said.
said, Israeli officials led him to believe they would act in response to a
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post from Washington
on Thursday night, “Assad would be off his rocker if he were to start a war with
Israel right now and he knows it.”
Assad is barely containing the war in
his own country and “the idea that he would add a war with Israel makes no
sense,” he said.
This seems to be more rhetoric, he said adding a caveat
that things could change.
Asked by the Post about the feeling in
Washington over the increasing tensions in the region over the past couple
weeks, Schanzer said that it has definitely been noticed in the US
“There is a sense that no good options are left for the US to
pursue – a sense of paralysis,” he added. There seems to be a growing
isolationist tendency in both parties.
He also said that Hezbollah has a
lot to lose if it goes to war with Israel now, because it is stretched thin as
they have 3,000-4,000 fighters in Syria. Schanzer concluded, “If Israel is able
to confirm that they have the S-300 on the ground, I can’t see them remaining
there for more than 24 hours.”
Reuters contributed to this report.