Israel warns of action over Russian plan to give missiles to Syria's Assad
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By Ian Johnston and John Newland, NBC News
A senior Israeli defense official warned on Tuesday that Russia’s plan to send sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons systems to Syria’s President Bashar Assad was a “threat” and signaled Israel could take some form of unspecified action in response.
Russia on Tuesday reiterated its intention to go ahead with the arms deal. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said it would “restrain some hotheads from escalating the conflict to the international scale," according to Russia Today.
His comments came after the European Union agreed to lift an arms embargo that prevented weapons from being sent to the rebels fighting Assad’s forces.
French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said France could potentially send arms to the opposition before the embargo expires on Aug. 1, but said it had no immediate plans to do so, Reuters reported.
The U.K.’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that the lifting of the embargo was “important … to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so.”
Ryabkov defended the deal with Syria. “Those systems by definition cannot be used by militant groups on the battlefield,” he said, according to Russia Today. “We consider this delivery a factor of stabilization. We believe that moves like this one to a great degree restrain some hotheads from escalating the conflict to the international scale, from involving external forces.”
Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of Middle East politics and international relations at the London School of Economics, told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday that Britain was looking to fill the “leadership vacuum” that exists because of U.S. reluctance to become more directly involved in the civil war in Syria.
“There is no military solution to the conflict. Even if the opposition is armed, I doubt very much whether they would have the capacity to deliver a decisive blow against Assad and Hezbollah and Iran,” he told the station.
“It’s not just Assad now. You have Hezbollah, one of the most potent military organizations in the Middle East, and Iran. And that’s why the Russians and the Americans have intensified their diplomacy,” he added.
“They are trying to basically prevent the escalation of the Syrian conflict not only into neighboring countries, but also into a region-wide conflict. This is what we’re talking about today: Is the fire in Syria devouring and consuming other countries in the region?”