Despite recent official statements, Russia will not complete a deal to sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, a senior Russian official told The Sunday Times.
According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin agreed earlier this month that Russia would not sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, and in return Israel would refrain from striking targets in Syria.
Israeli officials denied the report in The Sunday Times, on Sunday. They told Israel Radio that according to the information Israel holds Russia is planning on going forward with the sale though it is not clear when the deal will be finalized. The officials added that no commitment on the part of Russia had been received and that Israel hadn't committed to hold off on future attacks against arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah.
Israel is concerned that the missiles would fall into the hands of rebel groups hostile to it, the report said, and was able to persuade Putin that of the risk such a deal posed a threat to regional stability.
“We are very much concerned about this; the large Russian community in Israel is a major factor in our attitude to Israel, and we will not let this happen,” the Times quoted the Russian official as saying.
Two weeks ago, Netanyahu met with Putin in the Black Sea resort town of Suchi to discuss the crisis in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu, accompanied by his national security adviser Ya'akov Amidror and Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, asked Putin not to supply S-300 missile systems to Syria.
Both before and after the meeting Russia said that it had no new plans to sell advanced air defense systems to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but left open the possibility that it could ship such systems to Damascus under an existing contract.
Israel and Russia held in-depth talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the meeting. "The Israeli side raised the issue of the S-300 missiles once again, and we presented our stance on the matter," he said. "They are familiar with it and have heard it once again."
Three aerial strikes on Syria since January have been attributed to Israel in the international press. The targets of the attacks were said to be shipments of advanced weapons from Syria and Iran heading to Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Israel says it does not wish to get involved in the Syrian civil war and that its sole interest is to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
"The Israeli government is acting in a responsible, determined and level-headed manner," Netanyahu said last week, "in order to guarantee the safety of the citizens of Israel, in accordance with the policy we have set of preventing as much as possible the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. We will continue to guarantee Israel's security interests."
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