TEL AVIV, Israel — Infuriated by Moscow's decision last week to revive a long-shelved S-300 missile deal to Tehran, officials here reiterated Israel's right to target those batteries or any other high-end Russian arms transferred to regional terrorist organizations via Iran or Syria.
Aside from making it much harder for Israel to wage prospective strikes against Tehran's nuclear network, officials here say the mobile air-and-missile defense batteries further expand the list of Russian arms viewed as legitimate targets should Iran or Syria attempt to retransfer such "balance breaking" capabilities to Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
In a terse statement following a nearly hour-long talk, Netanyahu assailed the sale of advanced weaponry to Iran as "the direct result of the dangerous deal on the table" between Iran and six world powers.
In an April 14 interview, one official said Israel is monitoring "active and ongoing leakage of Russian material," including SA-22 short-range and SA-17 medium-range air defense systems, via Syria to Iranian-backed Hezbollah allies in Lebanon.
"We've discussed this with our friends in Washington and Europe and made multiple demarches to Moscow over a period of weeks and months," the official said.
"Our red line policy is clear: We view unauthorized third-party transfers of Russian-origin equipment as legitimate targets," he added.
Netanyahu's office released a statement following the weekly Cabinet meeting April 19:
"Israel views with utmost gravity the supply of S-300 missiles from Russia to Iran, especially at a time when Iran is stepping up its aggression in the region and around the borders of the State of Israel. Israel also views with utmost gravity the fact that there is no reference to this aggression in the agreement being made between the major powers and Iran. There is no stipulation that this aggression be halted, whether at the start of the agreement or as a condition for the lifting of sanctions."
Referring to an April 18 military parade in Tehran, where Iran exhibited what it claimed was an indigenous version of an advanced air and missile defense system, Netanyahu said: "Every year the missiles are bigger and enhanced — in accuracy, strength and deadliness; however, one thing does not change. What does not change is the inscription 'Death to Israel' on the missiles.
"Against the threats that I have described, Israel will do whatever is necessary to defend the security of the state and its citizens."
At an April 2013 press conference in Tel Aviv with then-US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Israel "put very clear red lines to the Syrian regime: The first one, not to allow sophisticated weapons to be delivered or to be taken by rogue elements like Hezbollah and other rogue elements who are operating now in Syria. We proved it. When they crossed this red line, we operated. We acted."
Other lines, according to Ya'alon, involve transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups and any breaches of Israel's border with Syria by way of shots, shelling or attempted infiltrations.
"This subject is very disturbing and is one of the huge holes in the deal — actually it's outside of the framework agreement… I hope there will still be time in the coming months to correct this," he added.
The diplomat noted that the ban on the estimated US $800 million deal was imposed by Putin's predecessor, former President Dmitry Medvedev, due in large part to heavy pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv.
Finally, he echoed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's assurances that the S-300 is purely defensive. "As the foreign minister said, this system is not designed for attacks. It will not put at risk the security of any state in the region, including Israel."
"I am aware of Israel's concerns regarding the possibility that the missiles will reach the hands of terror organizations in Lebanon. However, these concerns are groundless… For these missiles to hit you, you will need to enter Syrian territory," Putin told then- Israeli President Moshe Katsav.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.