Israel's National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror sketched out what Jerusalem's "red line" is vis-à-vis the S-300 missile systems Russia intends to send to Syria before the 27 European Union ambassadors in Israel.
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Two diplomats who were in the room during the briefing last Thursday, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was a closed event, said that Amidror stressed Israel will act "to prevent the S-300 missiles from becoming operational" on Syrian soil. This message was also conveyed by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon when he said on Tuesday that if the missiles reach Syria "Israel will know what to do."
Amidror's briefing, the diplomats said, made it clear that Israel estimates that sooner or later Russia will provide Syria with the missile systems and for reasons unrelated to Israel - namely Russian rivalry with the U.S., Britain and France on the Syrian issue. "We understood from Amidror that the Israeli government thinks the missile transfer cannot be prevented, therefore it will act against them after the transfer but before they become operational," one of the diplomats said.
The S-300 system is considered one of the world's most advanced aerial defense systems. Apart for the system's advanced radar, which can identify and track long-range targets, the missile themselves have a range of 200 kilometers.
Because of the system's advanced technology, the time required to make it operational can range between three to six months. Syrian operators and technicians also need to undergo training, possibly in Russia, but in order to fully calibrate the system and make it operational some of the process will have to take place in Syria.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked government ministers not to comment publicly about the S-300 systems, but in talks behind closed doors with diplomats and foreign ministers he relayed his concerns on the matter, in an attempt to exert last-minute pressure on Syria. On Wedneday, the British Guardian newspaper reported that a delegation of Israeli intelligence officials arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for more talks with senior Russian government officials.
A senior Israeli official and a European diplomat who are involved in the talks said that even though Netanyahu has not said so explicitly, he signaled in the past two weeks in talks with several European foreign ministers that his efforts to convince President Vladimir Putin not to provide Syria with the systems did not bear fruit.
"If the missiles are provided and become operational Israel's entire airspace will become a no-fly zone," Netanyahu told the European foreign ministers. "The missile transfer is a significant security challenge to Israel and we will not be able to stand idly by."
In the briefing to the European ambassadors Amidror tried to clarify Israel's policies on other issues concerning the Syrian civil war, and denied international media reports that Israel prefers President Bashar Assad remains in power.
"We are not interested in intervening or influencing the situation inside Syria," Amidror told the ambassadors. "We will only act when needed to protect our security, and thus we will prevent in the future the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah."
According to one of the diplomats present at the briefing, Amidror concluded by saying that for Israel, the strategic issue is weakening Hezbollah and Iran, and its policies are determined accordingly.
The Prime Minister's Office refused to comment.