Israel warned publicly for the first time that its air force would strike Syria’s S-300 air defense weapons supplied by Russia and Russian personnel could be in jeopardy. On Monday, Nov. 6, Ze’ev Elkin, minister for Jerusalem affairs and the environment said that Israel will attack Syria’s new Russian S-300 air defense systems if they are used against Israeli jets, Addressing Russian media in a rare briefing, Elkin, who is co-chair of the Russia-Israel Intergovernmental Commission, criticized Moscow, saying: “We consider the very fact of shipping S-300 to Syria a big mistake. The Syrian military are not always capable of correctly using the hardware transferred to them. In case of improper operation, civilian aircrafts may be harmed,” he said.
The minister, a member of Israel’s security cabinet, made these remarks after a month during which Israel refrained from air strikes over Syria and Russia had begun installing the first S-300s with Syrian operational teams.
“The Syrians, if they ever want to, might use [these systems] to down an Israeli military or commercial plane over Israeli territory,” Elkin said: “Considering the mess that is going on in the Syrian Army, shipping S-300s might lead to destabilization of the situation.” Pointing again at Moscow, the Israeli minister went on to say: “By shipping these kinds of weapons to Syrians, Russia bears partial responsibility for their use,” Elkin went on to warn: “Usually, Israel reacts to attacks on its territory and its aircraft not through international demarches, but with practical actions. Actions would undoubtedly take place, should [an attack] occur, against the launchers used to attack Israeli territory or Israeli planes.”
“I hope greatly that there would be no Russian military specialists [at S-300 sites],” he continued. “Israel has for all these years been doing everything it can to make sure Russian military personnel are not harmed. The Iranians have repeatedly used the Russian military as a living shield and conducted arms relocation operations under the cover of the Russian military presence.”
Elkin claimed that, according to Israeli intelligence, the Iranian military has attempted to use Russian military bases for arms shipment operations. “We have good enough intelligence regarding Iranian actions, and we know how to warn our Russian colleagues about such attempts in time.”
A response from Moscow will no doubt be coming for the first direct criticism by an Israeli minister of Russian actions in Syria.