Putin again warns Netanyahu hands off Syria

DEBKAfile — May 14, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spent three hours with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Tuesday, May, 14. He came for a last-ditch attempt to head off the supply of advanced Russian anti-air S-300 missile systems to Syria. Instead, the Russian leader turned the conversation around to focus implicitly on Israel’s air strikes against Damascus on May 3 and May 5. After their conversation he issued a warning: ”In this crucial period it is especially important to avoid any moves that can shake the situation.”

This was clearly a hands-off caution to Israel not to repeat its attacks on Damascus. And, furthermore, after “shaking the situation” in Syria by its air attacks, Israel was in no position to demand that Russia avoid selling Syria advanced weapons.

The prime minister, for his part, warned that the entire Middle East was in a dangerous state of volatility.

He was accompanied by Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Opposite him sat Mikhail Fradkov, SVR Director.

Kochavi laid before the Russian leader the information Israel had gathered on the state of Syria’s chemical weapons with relevance to their transfer to the Lebanese Hizballah.

Before Netanyahu’s arrival for the meeting, Moscow took two preparatory steps:

1. Russian diplomats leaked to the London-based Arab press a report that the S-300 missiles had already arrived in Syria. According to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Moscow had delivered 200 launchers (probably missiles) and the Syrian missile teams already knew how to use them.

By this leak, the Israeli prime minister was being informed that his journey to Sochi was a waste of time and that the use of S-300 missiles for shooting down Israeli Air Force planes was no longer controlled by Moscow but by Damascus.

2.  The prominent strategic analyst, Viktor Kremenyuk of The USA and Canada Institute in Moscow, reported Tuesday that Netanyahu arrived in Sochi to indirectly let Putin know that “Israel would destroy the S-300s when they are delivered and start being assembled.”

The deputy director of an important Russian think tank which advises the Kremlin on North American policy does not tend to make idle comments.

debkafiles Moscow sources interpreted Kremenyuk’s remark as a means of informing the Israeli leader that Moscow was not impressed by such threats. Instead of pushing Putin to stop the S-300 missiles, Israel would be more advantageously employed urging the Obama administration to adopt a more realistic stand on Syria and Bashar Assad.

In Moscow’s view, Washington must be brought to give up its threat of Western military intervention in Syria, of which the Israeli air strikes appeared to Putin as the harbinger, and come to terms with Assad’s presence in any political solution of the Syrian conflict.

These positions the Russian President had conveyed previously to US Secretary of State John Kerry and UK Prime Minister David Cameron. He made it clear to Netanyahu that he stood by them as firmly as ever. Therefore, say debkafile’s sources, so long as both powers remain entrenched in their positions, there is not much hope of their coming together on an international conference to resolve the Syrian conflict.

debkafiles military sources add: It is also unlikely that the Russian and Israeli leaders had a chance to work out reciprocal ground rules for the Russian officers supervising the S-300 missile operations in Syria to avoiding hitting Israeli Air Force jets or for Israeli bombers to refrain from destroying them.

The S-300 is designed to shoot down planes and missiles at 200-km ranges.

Israel is concerned that Moscow may decided to send the six S-300 batteries carrying 144 missiles due for Syria along with Russian missile and air defense specialists. They will also be available for operating the missiles effectively for downing Israeli Air Force planes striking targets in Syria and Lebanon. Israel will be forced to think twice before attacking the S-300 batteries for fear of hitting the Russian officers. Putin is therefore placing a severe constraint on Israel’s operational freedom by spreading an anti-air missile cover over the Syrian, Hizballah and the Iranian Basij forces fighting for Bashar Assad.

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