Israel to Russia: Don’t give Syria S-300 missiles

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has asked Russia to cancel an imminent sale of an advanced air defense system to Syria that could complicate further military intervention, Israeli security officials confirmed Thursday.

The officials said Israel shared information with the United States in hopes of persuading Russia to halt the planned deal to provide S-300 antiaircraft missiles. Disclosing the deal, the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines during the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar Assad, which erupted in March 2011, turned into an armed insurgency and finally a civil war. More than 70,000 people have been killed.

Israel has refrained from responding to most instances of fire into its territory from Syria. However, it has also insisted it has certain “red lines” it will not allow to be crossed, chiefly the introduction of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles and advanced weapons being transferred to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

Israel aircraft evaded Syrian air defenses twice in the past week to strike weapons said to be headed to Hezbollah. Israel has not officially acknowledged the attacks, but officials said the aim was to deprive Hezbollah of weapons that could someday be used against Israel — not to raise tensions with Syria.

Israeli officials are concerned that with the possible collapse of Assad’s regime, Hezbollah and other rogue elements could get their hands of Syria’s large stockpile of weapons. In January, Israel carried out an airstrike that reportedly destroyed a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles headed to Hezbollah.

There was no immediate comment from Russia or Israel’s Defense Ministry regarding the alleged sale of S-300s, considered to be the cutting edge in aircraft interception technology. There have been conflicting reports about whether Syria has already acquired the state-of-the-art missiles.

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