Russia must halt its planned delivery of the S-300 air-defense system to Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, as he continued to assert that Israel has the right to defend itself against Tehran.
“Israel will do whatever is necessary to defend the security of the state and its citizens,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
“Yesterday we saw the military parade in Tehran and Iran’s exhibition of weapons to the world,” Netanyahu said.
“Every year the missiles are bigger and enhanced – in accuracy, strength and deadliness.
However, one thing does not change. What does not change is the inscription ‘Death to Israel’ on the missiles.”
Six world powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, and Germany – will resume negotiations in Vienna this week to hammer out the details of a framework agreement with Tehran to curb its nuclear program. They hope to finalize the deal by the end of June.
Netanyahu on Sunday continued his campaign against the document, which he warned would only strengthen Iran militarily and encourage its aggressive behavior.
Russia’s decision to lift its five-year ban on the sale of the S-300 to Iran last week is proof that this is true, Israel has said.
“Israel views with utmost gravity the supply of S-300 missiles from Russia to Iran, especially at a time when Iran is stepping up its aggression in the region and around the borders of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel also views with utmost gravity the fact that there is no reference to this aggression in the agreement being made between the major powers and Iran,” he said.
“There is no stipulation that this aggression be halted, whether at the start of the agreement or as a condition for the lifting of sanctions,” Netanyahu said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he believes that lifting the ban could encourage Iran to finalize a nuclear deal with the six world powers by the end of June. He has reassured Israel that the S-300 does not endanger the Jewish state.
Over the weekend, Putin warned Israel against any retaliatory action, such as selling weapons to Ukraine. The Prime Minister’s Office had no response to Putin’s words. Israel has kept a low profiled with regard to the Russian- Ukrainian conflict and maintains relations with both governments. But as a possible sign of tensions around the S-300, Israel will be represented at Russia’s May 9th parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II by a low level delegation headed by its ambassador to Russia.
Putin had been ready to deliver the S-300 to Iran already in 2010, but agreed to ban the sale under pressure from the US. Israel had also pushed Moscow not to send the S-300 to Iran.
US President Barack Obama told reporters in Washington on Friday that he was surprised the Russian ban on the S-300 had lasted this long, particularly since the systems were not banned by the sanctions that were imposed on Iran.
The S-300 sale was not surprising, he said, “given some of the deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the United States, and the fact that their economy is under strain and this was a substantial sale.”
Russia’s desire to sell the S-300 to Iran shows that halting Iran’s nuclear program is not as simple as slapping on more sanctions, Obama said.
The sanctions regime was effective because it had international support, he said.
“If it is perceived that we walked away from a fair deal that gives us assurances Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, then those international sanctions will fray,” Obama said.
“We want to make sure that if there’s no deal around the Iran nuclear program, it’s because the Iranians were not willing to accept what the international community considered to be an appropriate and fair approach to this problem,” Obama said.
On Sunday in a televised address, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told military commanders the US had created the “myth” of nuclear weapons to portray Iran as a threat, hardening his rhetoric before nuclear negotiations resume this week.
Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, has supported the nuclear talks but continues to express deep mistrust of the United States.
“They created the myth of nuclear weapons so they could say the Islamic Republic is a source of threat. No, the source of threat is America itself, with its unrestrained, destabilizing interventions,” Khamenei said in a televised address to a hall of several hundred military commanders.
“The other side is methodically and shamelessly threatening us militarily....
Even if they did not make these overt threats, we would have to be prepared,” he said.
Political leaders in Iran and the United States have to contend with domestic constituencies skeptical about the outcome of the talks.
Khamenei’s comments did not appear to suggest he has withdrawn his cautious support for the diplomatic process.
Earlier this month, Khamenei insisted that all sanctions be lifted immediately on a deal being reached, a condition the US State Department dismissed.
The deputy commander of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Sunday rejected any inspections of military sites as a “national humiliation,” highlighting another area of difference between the two sides.
“This subject is treasonous and selling out the country, and if anyone speaks of it we will respond with hot lead,” Hossein Salami said, in comments cited by state news agency IRNA.
US Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the co-author of legislation that would allow Congress to review any final nuclear deal with Iran, told CNN on Sunday that lifting of sanctions must be phased to ensure Iran’s compliance and include broad inspection capabilities for military sites.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican 2016 presidential candidate, said the agreement thus far leaves too much infrastructure in place for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
He told the CBS program Face the Nation that US and international sanctions must remain in place, with a warning of US military action if certain thresholds are crossed.
“We don’t want that to happen, but risk of a nuclear Iran is so great that that option must be on the table,” Rubio said.Reuters contributed to this report.