Russia’s decision to provide Syria with advanced S-300 air defense systems is a “major mistake,” US National Security Advisor John Bolton has warned, advising Russia against escalating the already high tensions in the Middle East region.
“We think introducing the S-300s to the Syrian government would be a significant escalation by the Russians and something that we hope, if these press reports are accurate, they would reconsider,” Bolton said Monday, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Moscow said earlier in the day that Damascus would receive the modern missile system within two weeks.
The decision came after Israeli fighter jets attacking Syrian military posts misled the country’s air defenses into shooting down a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance plane on September 17, killing all 15 passengers onboard.
Russia laid the blame on Israel, saying the Israeli fighter jets essentially used the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into Syria’s line of fire.
Bolton, however, said Israel was only defending itself against what he called “Iranian aggressive behavior” in Syria.
“The Israelis have a legitimate right to self-defense against this Iranian aggressive behavior, and what we’re all trying to do is reduce tensions, reduce the possibility of major new hostilities,” he argued. “That’s why the president [Donald Trump] has spoken to this issue and why we would regard introducing the S300 as a major mistake.”
Iran has been providing military advisory support to Syria at the request of the Damascus government, enabling its army to speed up its gains on various fronts against foreign-backed terror outfits.
The anti-Damascus militants have enjoyed Israeli support in form of weapons and medical treatment as well as recurrent airstrikes against Syrian military facilities.
Tel Aviv has also been running a campaign to convince Russia and the US to oust Iran’s advisors from Syria, or at least push them back from areas close to the Arab country’s southwestern border. The regime also claims to have deliberately targeted Iranian forces across the country.
US military to stay in Syria until Iran leaves: Bolton
Bolton noted in his remarks that the US plans to continue its military presence in Syria as long as Iranian advisors are there.
“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” Bolton said.
This goes against the longtime Pentagon policy that the US military mission in Syria would conclude once the terrorists are defeated. In fact, the Trump administration has yet to make any moves indicative of a will to counter Iranian presence in Syria.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pointed this out hours after Bolton’s remarks, claiming that while Russia and Iran had both contributed to instability in Syria the US military remained solely focused on defeating Daesh.
“Right now our troops inside Syria are there for one purpose, and that’s under the UN authorization about defeating ISIS,” Mattis said, using another acronym for Daesh. “Our troops are there for that one purpose.”