Exclusive: Lebanese President Michel Aoun has asked Moscow to bring Lebanese air space under the protection of the Russian air defense system being deployed in Syria, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal. President Vladimir Putin has not yet replied to the request which Aoun posted through back channels. But neither has he so far turned him down. For now, it is under discussion at the highest levels of the Russian defense ministry, which tend to recommend approval.
According to our sources, the framing of Beirut’s request went through several drafts with the help of President Aoun’s friend and ally, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, until he approved it – meaning, until Tehran approved it. If Putin decides to grant the Lebanese request for Russian air defense cover, Israel would face a further Russian restraint on its air force’s operations in the eastern Mediterranean, over and above the powerful Russian air defense system which is in the last stages of deployment in Syria. This system is composed of S-300, S-400 and Pantsir-S1E air defense missiles, boosted by layers of medium- and short-range anti-air batteries and an advanced electronic warfare network. This sophisticated edifice was designed by Moscow to provide the ultimate answer to any aerial threats the US and Israeli warplanes were capable of posing from Syria’s skies.
Putin’s accession to the Lebanese request would provide Hizballah, Iran’s proxy, for the first time with an umbrella by a world power against a potential Israeli air attack.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s assurance to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee on Sunday, Nov. 18 that Israel’s air force faces no restrictions in its operations over Syria, is far from realistic in the light of Russia’s counter-measures. As for his assertion that the air force slowed those operations because Iran had reduced its arms deliveries to that country, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence fill in this picture. Iran has in fact completed its current round of war materiel shipments to Hizballah and was able to do so during the pause in Israel air strikes. The most alarming item reaching the Lebanese terrorists were components for upgrading Hizballah’s surface rockets with precision guidance GPS. This upgrading has been going forward in dozens of small workshops distributed across Lebanon and parts of Syria. If Putin agrees to extend Russian air defense cover to Lebanon, those workshops will be that much harder for Israeli bombers to destroy – thrusting another major Russian spoke in Israel’s security wheel.