Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is bluffing when he says that Russian S-300 advanced missile systems have already begun arriving in his country, Fox News reported on Thursday.
The report cited two senior U.S. officials privy to sensitive intelligence matters. They spoke to Fox News after Assad was quoted as having told Hizbullah’s television network Al-Manar that, despite the portrayal by the media of a deal for advanced missiles to be purchased from Russia as a future event, the fact is that Syria has already begun acquiring the S-300 missile system from Moscow.
Fox News noted two different transcripts of the Al-Manar interview that were released, one in which Assad claims that Syria already received the S-300, and a second one released later in which he used more careful, general language.
Assad was initially quoted as saying "Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets," noted the network.
The second transcript was inconclusive and in it, Assad was quoted as saying, "There are many arms agreements between us and the Russians from a long time. The Russians are committed to their agreements. All that was agreed with Russia will be implemented and part of it has been already done. We and the Russians are in agreement and we will continue to be like this."
Retired ambassador Yossi Ben-Aharon, formerly the Deputy Director-General of the Foreign Ministry and Director-General of the Prime Minster's Office, also predicted that Assad was likely bluffing.
"Anything that President Bashar al-Assad says should be checked for veracity," Ben-Aharon told Arutz Sheva radio. "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.”
He added, "We do not have information that the S-300 missiles have indeed arrived in Syria."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Russian leader Vladimir Putin two weeks ago, in an effort to forestall the transfer of the missiles to Syria. He reportedly told Putin that the missiles could be used to threaten Israeli civilian air traffic, among other things.
In recent days, there have been reports that the transfer of the advanced systems would not be carried out. However, Moscow said this week that it still plans to deliver the S-300 to Damascus, explaining the deliveries were part of existing contracts.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Tuesday that Israel "will know what to do" if Russia delivers highly advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
"The deliveries have not taken place – I can attest to this – and I hope they do not. But if, by some misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do," Yaalon said.