A senior Israeli official has admitted that Russia’s delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense systems to Damascus will pose a serious “challenge” to the regime.
Tensions have been rising between Moscow and Tel Aviv following the downing of a Russian warplane in Syria this month.
The official, whose name was not released in the Sunday report by the Times of Israel, said Tel Aviv was working on “different ways” to deal with Russia’s recent move.
“The S-300 is a complex challenge for … Israel. We are dealing with the [decision] in different ways, not necessarily by preventing shipment [of the anti-aircraft systems],” he said.
The official said Israel enjoyed the US support and reserved the right to protect itself, without elaboration.
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin made a move, but it’s a big playing field and he understands that,” the official said.
Moscow vowed to bolster Syria’s air defense capabilities by sending modern S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to the Arab country within two weeks after the recent accidental downing of a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft.
The aircraft was shot down by Syrian air defenses while they were responding to a wave of Israeli airstrikes.
Russia’s decision to provide Syria with the S-300 system infuriated Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describing it as “irresponsible.”
Netanyahu told Putin in a phone conversation that Israel “will continue to do what it has to do to defend itself.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday Russia has already started delivering the S-300 system to Syria as part of efforts to ensure the safety of Russian forces in the Arab country.
The Russian plane with 15 servicemen on board disappeared from radars on September 17 as four Israeli F-16 warplanes were attacking state institutions in Syria’s Latakia Province, which is home to Russia-run Hmeimim airbase.
Russia’s Defense Ministry held Israel responsible for the incident, saying the regime’s warplanes “created a dangerous situation” that led to the downing of the Russian aircraft by Syria’s S-200 missile defense system.
Israel frequently attacks military targets in Syria in what is considered as an attempt to prop up militant groups that have been suffering heavy defeats against Syrian government forces.