Israeli officials this week said they would "know what to do" if Russia goes through with the planned sale of an advanced anti-aircraft system to Syria. Given Israel's recent pinpoint air strikes in Syria, the remarks were taken as a thinly veiled threat to destroy the Russian arms the moment they touch Syrian soil.
"Delivery [of the S-300] has not taken place – I can attest to this – and I hope it does not. But if, by some misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon told reporters.
Israel had tried to convince Russia to cancel the arms sale, arguing that the S-300 would enable embattled Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to more easily transfer chemical weapons to his Hezbollah allies. Two earlier Israeli air strikes purportedly prevented similar transfers.
There is also the risk that should Assad fall, the S-300 itself will fall into the hands of Hezbollah or one of the radical Islamic groups making up the Syrian rebel army. Israeli officials noted that, in the hands of terrorists, the S-300 could be used to quite easily bring down civilian airliners.
But at a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin rebuffed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's concerns, insisting that Assad is a stabilizing factor in the region and that his regime must be given every chance to remain in power.
Meanwhile, Assad on Thursday claimed on Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV that he had already received the first shipment of S-300 missiles and radar systems. The Syrian dictator went on to warn Israel that any further air strikes would result in an immediate Syrian retaliation.
Following Israel's last air strike against a suspect chemical weapons storehouse at Damascus airport, Arab media reported that Syria had aimed the bulk of its considerable long-range missile arsenal at the Jewish state.