Will Israel try to stop a shipment of Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria by using military force?
It is possible, judging by the exchange of words between Moscow and Jerusalem in recent days.
Russia will supply the S-300s to Syria, despite all Israeli requests to cancel the deal. In response, Israel has indicated that it may attack the shipment, which would have wide-ranging implications.
Israeli officials are using some vague language, but that has not reduced the tension, and in the Middle East words can lead to weapons being fired.
Israel “will know what to do” if Russia delivers highly advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said this week.
“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
His comments came after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the aim of providing the missiles to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would be to deter any foreign intervention in Syria.
Speaking in Moscow, Ryabkov said: “We consider these supplies a stabilising factor and believe such steps will deter some hotheads from considering scenarios that would turn the conflict international with the involvement of outside forces.”
In Jerusalem, there was little doubt who the “hotheads” are in Russian eyes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his ministers to stop talking publicly about the issue, but tensions remain high.
Israel considers the S-300 in the hands of the Syrian armed forces a game-changer, especially because Syria is the middle of a civil war.
The Russian declaration that the deal will be completed is a slap in the face to Netanyahu, who only two weeks ago went to Russia and asked President Vladimir Putin not to supply the missiles.
The S-300, according to experts, can overcome part of the defence systems on board the Israeli air force’s aircraft.
The system can simultaneously handle several targets and launch missiles towards them according to the perceived level of threat from each target.