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Russia Poised to Export S-300 Batteries to Syria, Israel Says
Israel is raising alarms that Russia is poised to export a sophisticated air-defense system to Syria. The technology would improve the government's ability to counter possible foreign military involvement in the nation's civil war, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
The Bashar Assad regime has been paying down the $900 million principal on a 2010 deal with Russia to acquire four S-300 units, according to Israel, which said another payment was made in 2013 via the Russian financial firm VEB.
Moscow was reported last summer to have halted the deal against a backdrop of international outrage with atrocities committed by the Syrian government in the civil war.
S-300 systems are capable of engaging both hostile aircraft and guided missiles. Syria has reportedly ordered six S-300 launchers and 144 missiles, which the Israelis say are capable of flying as far as 125 miles. Damascus could receive its first S-300 shipment within the next three months and take receipt of the full order before 2013 is over, according to Israel.
U.S. officials said they are examining the information supplied by Tel Aviv.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said S-300 deliveries to Syria would be "destabilizing" for the defense of Israel, the Associated Press reported.
"We have raised objections to this (sale) with the Russians, and the Americans have too," Reuters quoted an Israeli official as saying.
The Israeli air force would likely still be able to overcome any S-300s deployed by its neighbor, said IHS Jane's air power specialist Robert Hewson. "It's a fairly well-established, fairly well-understood system, so there is a corpus of knowledge, particularly among Israel's friends, about how to deal with this system."
Israel conducted airstrikes within Syria on Friday and Sunday that are understood to have targeted Iranian-manufactured tactical ballistic missiles intended for shipment to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Assad regime has warned of reprisal actions.
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday said Damascus would retaliate by ensuring that his organization is supplied with "game-changing" weapons, the Associated Press reported. "Syria will give the resistance special weapons it never had before," Nasrallah said in public remarks.
"This is the Syrian strategic reaction" to the Israeli airstrikes, Nasrallah said. "This is more important than firing a rocket or carrying out an airstrike" against Israel.
Separately, British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Wednesday that there is a "growing body of limited but persuasive information" suggesting the Assad regime has employed chemical arms including sarin nerve agent in the country's protracted conflict, the London Telegraph reported.
London is using this contention to lobby the European Union to partially lift its weapons embargo on Syria to permit the provision of arms to opposition forces.
A team of eight Turkish specialists has been sent to a border site with Syria to check refugees for exposure to chemical warfare materials, AP reported on Thursday.
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