UPDATE 1100 GMT: Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a member of the Israeli Security Cabinet, said at a cultural event in a Tel Aviv suburb, “An opportunity has arisen for Israel to uproot Iran from Syria, and we’ll take advantage of this opportunity.”
Galant, a former army general, continued, “We need to strike while the iron is hot and eradicate any trace of Iranian entrenchment in Syria. We’ll put the Iranian genie back in its bottle.”
Israeli officials told TV news on Friday night that the Security Cabinet believes Iran “has gotten the Israeli message, and won’t mess with us in the near future”.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Bashar al-Assad that he should “throw” Iranian forces out of the country.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) May 12, 2018
Tilting towards Israel to discourage a confrontation with Iran in Syria, the Kremlin has said that it will not supply S-300 air defense missile systems to the Assad regime.
The announcement on Friday came two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin in Moscow, followed hours later by Israeli strikes on Assad regime and Iranian positions across the country.
Russia has dangled the possibility of S-300 deliveries to Assad for years, but has never confirmed an arrangement. Meanwhile, Israel has periodically struck regime and Iranian targets, trying to disrupt missile and weapons transfers to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and to maintain a buffer zone in southwest Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, before escalating the attacks early Thursday after rockets were fired at the Golan Heights.
Last month, after US-UK-France strikes in response to the Assad regime’s chemical attacks near Damascus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any moral obligation had been removed on Russia’s supply of the S-300s. The Kommersant daily, citing unnamed military sources, said deliveries might begin imminently.
But yesterday Putin’s aide Vladimir Kozhin said, “For now, we’re not talking about any deliveries of new modern systems.” He added that the Assad regime’s military already has “everything it needed”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also stepped back from last month’s comments, “Deliveries were never announced as such. But we did say after the strikes [last month] that of course Russia reserved the right to do anything it considered necessary.”
The denial of the S-300s to Assad is the latest sign that Russia, despite being the essential ally keeping the regime in power, is choosing Israel in any confrontation with Damascus and adhering to a de facto agreement from Netanyahu and Putin in September 2015 — days before military intervention by the Russians.
Russia has never tried to check an Israeli raid on regime and Iranian positions, using its own S-300s around Russian bases in Syria. On Thursday, Israel informed Moscow just before it attacked, and the Russians again refrained from any action.
The steps may also check the Assad regime’s desire for an offensive to capture opposition territory in the south, near the Jordanian border and the Golan Heights. Any operation, involving Iranian-led militia and Hezbollah, is likely to bring a sharp Israeli response.