Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister said on Tuesday that Russia will not cancel its plans to provide Syria with an air defence system despite Western opposition. Sergei Ryabkov insisted that this will help to deter "hotheads" who intend to intervene in the Syrian conflict that has been ongoing for two years. He accused the European Union of "throwing fuel on the fire" by deciding not to renew its arms embargo on Syria.
In response, Israel said that its forces are "ready" and "know what to do" should the shipment of missiles arrive in Syria. "This is definitely a threat," said Minister of Defence Moshe Ya'alon, "although the weapons haven't left Russia yet."
Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper pointed out that a senior official told the Sunday Times that Russia had agreed, during a meeting held two weeks ago between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to cancel the S-300 missile deal with Syria. Moscow understood at the time that Israel would not launch more attacks on Syria in return for the cancellation of the deal.
The newspaper added that Israel hurried to deny this claim and confirm its belief that the deal has not been cancelled. It noted that the head of the Israeli Air Force, Amir Eshel, said last week that the missiles are on their way to Syria after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed several weeks ago that his country intends to commit to the agreements with Syria, including the supply of anti-aircraft technology for defensive purposes.
In a related context, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Britain is not obliged to wait until August 1, the date on which EU foreign ministers are set to meet again, before deciding to arm the Syrian opposition fighters. He stressed, though, that Britain has not yet taken a decision in this regard. Hague told the BBC that Britain is "not excluded" from arming the Syrian opposition before the beginning of August and it would not act on its own if it chose to do so.
The European Union failed, on Monday, to reach an agreement about the supply of weapons to the Syrian opposition, which left Britain and France feeling free to take a unilateral decision to arm the opposition fighters from August 1.