Among Israel’s main concerns regarding the possible sale of Russian S-300
air-defense systems to Syria is that they may then be transferred to Iran,
International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz said Tuesday.
now, Moscow has refused to deliver those state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missiles
to Tehran, which has tried repeatedly over the last decade to attain
“We are very concerned about the new supply of sophisticated arms
to Syria itself,” Steinitz – who also holds the Strategic Affairs and
Intelligence portfolios – said in a speech at The Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs (JCPA). “We don’t understand Russia’s position about it. Why should
anyone supply [Syrian President Bashar] Assad with advanced ballistic or
anti-aircraft or antiship rockets at this very time?”
Steinitz listed three
reasons for Israel’s strong opposition to the sale: It could encourage Assad to
continue waging war against the rebels and discourage him from compromising with
the opposition; the weapons, because of Syria’s instability, could find their
way into the hands of Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations; and they could
be transferred to Iran.
“Maybe, because of the disorder in Syria, [or
because] of the very heavy dependence of Syria on the Iranian assistance, some
of those weapons might unfortunately find their way to the Iranians. This is
very bad, and [would go] against the weapon embargo on Iran,” Steinitz
As a result of that international arms embargo, according to
assessments in Jerusalem, Syria currently has advanced arms systems that are not
in Iran’s possession, and there is little keeping the Syrians from transferring
those weapons to Tehran.
Steinitz added that the S-300 missiles did not
only have a defensive capability. He said that because of their ability to shoot
down aircraft up to 200 km. away, these missiles could also be used
Deployed near Damascus, for example, the S-300 could target
Israeli aircraft, including civilian aircraft, flying over Haifa and Tel Aviv,
The minister, who said Israel had good relations with Russia and
a “very good and close dialogue” with the Kremlin, added that there was reason
to believe the Russians could be persuaded not to deliver these weapons at this
“We have reason to believe that there is still room to convince the
Russians on this matter,” he said. “We received clarifications, or we have
reason to believe that these missiles were not yet delivered, or may not be
supplied in the near future at least.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin,
meanwhile, defended on Tuesday Russian arms sales to the Syrian government, but
said Moscow had not yet delivered the S-300s to Damascus.
Putin told a
news conference after a summit with European Union leaders that Russia did not
want to upset the military balance in the region and that all its arms sales to
Syria were in line with international law.
He also praised the S-300
missile system as one of the best in the world, but added, “The contract was
signed several years ago. It has not been fulfilled yet.”
Assad told Lebanese news outlet Al-Manar that Syria had received a first
shipment of S-300 missiles from Russia under a deal signed before the current
conflict raging in his country.
Meanwhile, the United States said it is
not ready to say the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the war-ravaged
country, despite a French finding that this has in fact happened.
need more information” about claims of such use, White House spokesman Jay
Carney told reporters.
France said that there was no doubt the Syrian
government had used the nerve agent sarin against rebels, and that all options,
including military action, were under consideration in reaction to the
“There is no doubt that it’s the regime and its accomplices”
that are responsible for use of the gas, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
said on France 2 television.
“All options are on the table,” he added.
“That means either we decide not to react, or we decide to react including by
armed actions targeting the place where the gas is stored.”
Iran, Steinitz said the world was still badly underestimating Tehran’s potential
nuclear threat, and that the Islamic Republic’s aspirations were not to be a
one-bomb-in-the-basement country, but to be a nuclear power developing dozens of
nuclear bombs annually.
“We must speak of an Iranian nuclear arsenal, not
just a bomb,” he said, contrasting Iran with North Korea.
Iranians] get the bomb, they will get many nuclear bombs,” he said, while North
Korea’s ambitions, he continued, were “local,” primarily having to do with
securing the survivability of the regime and being able to blackmail the West
“Iranian ambitions are global,” he stated. “Iranian leaders are
speaking about a changing balance of power between Islam and the Western world,
of a new era of global Islamic hegemony.”
Furthermore, Steinitz said,
Iran’s nuclear industry was already bigger than that of North Korea and
Pakistan, and if indeed the Iranians reached their objective of spinning some
54,000 centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility, that alone would allow them
to create the fissile material needed for 20-30 bombs per year.
the Iranians have yet to build a bomb, the industry they are creating is aimed
at building “hundreds of nuclear bombs in a decade or two,” he said. This
development, he added, would not only be a regional game-changer, but also
change the course of “global history.”
Steinitz praised the international
sanctions on Iran, saying they were costing the Iranian economy some $70 billion
a year. But, he pointed out, Iran’s leadership has shown it is willing to pay
that price if in the end it gets a bomb.
“If we will be able to convince
them that come what may, they will not be able to see the fruits of this nuclear
project, that they will not be able to produce a bomb, that they are suffering
for nothing, that they are paying something for nothing, this will force them to
reconsider,” he said.
Steinitz asserted that the only way to do this was
to couple the international sanctions with a credible military
Reuters contributed to this report.