Sunday, May 12, 2013

Netanyahu to visit Putin in a bid to stop his S-300 missile sale to Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sets off for the Black Sea town of Sochi early next week for a personal call on President Vladimir Putin. This was confirmed Saturday, May 11 by the Russian president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who declined to explain the urgency of the unplanned meeting. debkafile’s Moscow sources report that Netanyahu asked to meet Putin without delay for a last-ditch attempt to persuade him to call off the sale to Syria of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.

Moscow’s decision to sell those weapons to Syria was first revealed by debkafile on May 7.

Our sources now add that the prime minister’s chances of averting the sale are extremely slim. A series of prominent figures have already tried talking the Russian president out of the sale and failed, starting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on May 7, followed Friday May 10 by British premier David Cameron who saw Putin in Sochi and German Foreign Minister Guido Westernwelle who met his Russian opposite number Sergei Lavrov in Warsaw.

They all warned the Russian leader that the delivery of S-300 missiles to Syria would touch off an arms race in Syria and the Middle East with disastrous consequences.

Lavrov told reporters: “Russia is not planning to sell S-300 to Syria. Russia has already sold them a long time ago. It has signed the contracts and is completing deliveries in line with them of equipment which is anti-aircraft technology.”

Rejecting all their arguments, Putin said his government would stand by all its commitments to the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and defend his regime. After Israel’s air strike against Damascus on May 5, nothing would now stop the S-300 deliveries.

The Russian president, in a phone call he put in to the Israeli premier on May 7 when the latter was visiting Shanghai, warned Israel against any further attacks on Syria.

He later spurned the approaches by Western leaders by stating that Moscow would never permit another US-led NATO air campaign against Assad like the one that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi in Libya in 2011.

He added that Russian arms sales to Syria and Iran were Moscow’s response to the large arms packages US Defense Minister Chuck Hagel brought to Israel and US Gulf allies in the last week of April.

The S-300 is designed to shoot down planes and missiles at 200-km ranges.

Israel is concerned that Moscow may decided to send the six S-300 batteries carrying 144 missiles due for Syria along with Russian missile and air defense specialists. They will officially be described as instructors for training Syrian crews in the use of the sophisticated anti-air weapons. But they will also be available for operating the missiles effectively for downing Israeli Air Force planes striking targets in Syria and Lebanon. Israel will be forced to think twice before attacking the S-300 batteries for fear of hitting the Russian officers.

Putin is therefore placing a severe constraint on Israel’s operational freedom by spreading an anti-air missile cover over the Syrian, Hizballah and the Iranian Basij forces fighting for Bashar Assad.

Since the chances of dissuading Putin to abandon this strategy are just about nil, the best Netanyahu can hope for by his face-to-face with the Russian president is a limited accord on ground rules for averting an Israeli-Russian military clash in Syria. - Debka

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