Syria has advanced missiles from Russia, Assad says

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said Russia has delivered an advanced air defense system to his civil war-torn country.

Assad reportedly made the announcement during an interview with the Hezbollah-controlled Al-Manar television network in Lebanon. Excerpts of the interview were released on Thursday morning, the French news agency AFP reported, with the full interview scheduled to be aired that night.

Advertisement for the J

S-300 missiles would significantly boost Syria’s ability to stave off international intervention in the civil war. The Assad government had been seeking to purchase the advanced batteries, which can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles, from Moscow for many years.

Syria has been making payments on a 2010 agreement with Moscow to buy four batteries for $900 million, The Wall Street Journal reported recently, citing information provided by Israel.

Israel and the United States had called on Russian leaders to halt the sale in order to allow the option of intervention in the civil war and because of the threat to Israel.

Also in the interview, Assad reiterated that the Syrian army would strike back at Israel if it attacks Syrian territory. He also said that his government would not prevent any Arab group in Syria from working to “liberate” the Golan Heights from Israeli control.

Two days before Assad confirmed that Russia had made good on the deal, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that Israel would “react forcefully” if Syria took delivery of the missiles.

“The deliveries have not taken place, and I hope they do not. But if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do,” he said Tuesday.