Russia has cancelled the deal to sell S-300 missiles to Syria, a senior Russian official tells the British Sunday Times.
The official explained the cancellation was a result of Russia’s concern that the missiles could fall into the wrong hands and be used to attack civilian aircraft at the Ben Gurion airport.
“We are very much concerned about this; the large Russian community in Israel is a major factor in our attitude to Israel, and we will not let this happen,” the official told The Sunday Times.
He said that an agreement to cancel the deal with Syria was reached during the recent meeting in Russia between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin. In return for cancelling the deal, the official added, Russia expects Israel to refrain from further air strikes in Syria.
The official pointed out that Netanyahu, along with National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror, explained during the meeting with Putin that if the S-300 missiles fall into the hands of groups that oppose Israel, planes taking off and landing in Israel will be in the range of those missiles.
He added that Russia's main goal is to keep Syria as a single entity, noting that the Syrians are willing to come to an international peace conference to be held in Geneva next month without preconditions, but so far the rebels insist that President Bashar Al-Assad must resign.
"It is not acceptable and we are waiting for the United States to solve this problem with the rebels," the Russian official said. He also stressed that Russia has no plans to provide asylum to Assad in Moscow. "We're not going to offer this to him," he said.
Russia clarified last week that it would go ahead with selling S-300 advanced missile systems to Syria, despite a request by Israel to cancel the deal.
Speaking to the Lebanese-based Al-Mayadeen television, which is close to the Hizbullah terror group, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia is “committed to the agreements” signed with Syria regarding the advanced missiles and will “fully carry them out.”
As he has said previously, Lavrov reiterated that Russia does not intend to sign new agreements with Syria for the sale of weapons, but explained that since the S-300 deal was signed before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, Russia intends to carry it out as planned.
"We have no intention of breaking international law," Lavrov explained. "However, we do not want our reputation as reliable suppliers of weapons to be affected."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, called the Russian decision “ill-timed and very unfortunate”, adding that it “will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering.”