Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have been bluffing Thursday morning when he said that his country had already received some of the Russian S-300 missile systems it has purchased, a former top level Israeli government official told Arutz Sheva.
Retired ambassador Yossi Ben-Aharon is a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs, who served as Deputy Director-General of the Foreign Ministry and Director-General of the Prime Minster's Office under Yitzhak Shamir. He gave an exclusive live interview to Josh Hasten, host of Arutz Sheva's Reality Bytes podcast, about the latest developments in Syria.
For the full interview in mp3 format click here.
"Anything that President Bashar al-Assad says should be checked for veracity," Ben-Aharon stated. "He is in dire straits. He is probably trying to set up some type of protective wall in case Israel sees a need to attack a shipment of armaments from Syria to the Hizbullah. He could be deliberately misleading," Ben-Aharon commented. He added, "we do not have information that the S-300 missiles have indeed arrived in Syria."
The Hizbullah organization, based in Lebanon, has repeatedly attacked Israel, most notably in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. It is aiding the pro-Assad forces in Syria and it is feared that the weapons might also get into Hizbullah's hands.
In spite of Israeli and American calls to halt the weapons sale, Russia's foreign minister stated on Wednesday that his government would carry out the delivery in the near future. Ben-Aharon called this a power play on Russia's part.
Because of the "Arab Spring" revolutions that occurred in many Middle Eastern countries, the Russians "are left only with Syria and they are trying to hold on to the maximum extent of their power," he stated. He noted that Russia has part of its naval fleet in the Mediteranean sea near Syria, and "Assad is the only Arab leader who has opened the gates for some kind of Russian influence."
In regard to the possibility that the S-300 missiles could be used against Israel, Ben-Aharon reiterated the unofficial response of Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon: "We have cautioned the Russians not to supply the piece of armament. But if, however, it does happen to materialize on Syrian territory, we will know how to deal with it. We have the capacity. If there is a real threat to us, we will have to make a move even if we are taking a risk."
In a previous interview on Arutz Sheva / Israel National Radio which took place following Israel's alleged raid on a Syrian weapons compound, Ben-Aharon spoke of his own personal experiences in talking with Syrian officials. For the May 5th interview with Yossi Ben-Aharon click here.
"We are dealing with a very tough customer," he said. "They are headstrong and very proud. They looked down on other Arab countries. That was their attitude before the civil war started."
Today the former top Israeli adviser describes a fragmented society. What started as a bid to oust a dictatorial leader has become much more complicated. "There are so many outside factors in the web that prevent any chance of a ceasefire. It has become a sectoral confrontation between the Sunnis and the ruling family of Alawites who are similar to the Shiite sect of Islam," Ben-Aharon explained.
"The Iranians offered support to the pro-Shiite minority, and the Saudi Arabians and Qatar weighed in to support the Sunni majority. If that isn't enough, you have other factors that poke their fingers in, such as Hizbullah from Lebanon. Assad has supported Hizbullah. When they saw the Assad regime beginning to fracture, they sent their own fighters to help in Damascus. Over and above all of this, western countries have tried to support the revolutionaries that are fighting to bring down the brutal Assad regime, and Russia is trying to maintain its influence. Let's remember that the Russian Soviets were sending weapons to Syria back in the 1970s."
For the full interview, including his comments on United States Secretary of State John Kerry latest announcement, download Reality Bytes with Josh Hasten by clicking here.
Josh Hasten hosts the Reality Bytes call-in talk show live every Thursday from 10:00 AM - 12:00 noon Israel time on Arutz Sheva - Israel National Radio's live internet stream. For free podcast archives click here.