|The head of aircraft maker MiG said on Friday that Russia was counting on providing Syria with 10 MiG-29 fighter planes and was discussing details with a Syrian delegation, RIA news agency reported. It did not say when they might be delivered.Meanwhile, there were contradicting reports in Russia on when Moscow is scheduled to deliver the the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
Two Russian newspapers, Vedomosti and Kommersant, cited different sources as saying the weapons delivery is not expected before next year, rejecting claims the missiles had already been transferred to the regime of President Bashar Assad, according to AFP.
The Vedomosti cited a Russia defense source as saying it was unclear if the weapons would be delivered to Syria this year, while the Kommersant quoted a source as saying the delivery was only planned for the second quarter of 2014.
In a separate report on Russian news agency Interfax, a Russian arms industry source said Moscow is unlikely to deliver the missiles before the fall of 2013.
The source suggested the delivery could be accelerated if neighboring countries carried out air attacks on Syria or if a no-fly regime were to be imposed on the country.
“Regarding the deliveries of the S-300, they can begin no earlier than the autumn. Technically it’s possible, but much will depend on how the situation develops in the region and the position of Western countries,” said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar reported on Thursday that Assad told Al-Manar television the missiles had already arrived in Syria, but all reports indicate the missiles have not been delivered yet.
Speaking about the delivery of the S-300 to Syria, Assad told Al-Manar that Russia is “committed to the deal and neither [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s visit nor the current crisis will influence the importing of arms.”
“The contracts with Russia are not linked to the crisis and Russia is committed to implementing these contracts,” he said. “Everything we have agreed on with Russia will take place, and part of it has already taken place.”
More of the missiles would arrive soon, he was quoted as saying.
A source close to Russia’s Defense Ministry said there had been a “bank transfer” in connection with the S-300 transaction, but that Russian banks were becoming increasingly nervous about dealing with Assad.
Israel is investigating Assad’s claims that the missiles have arrived, while Channels 2 and 10 reported they did not believe the missiles had arrived.
The S-300 anti-aircraft missiles have a 200-km. range with the capacity to hit planes in northern Israel. It would create a no-fly zone that would make it impossible for the Israel Air Force to operate along the Syrian and Lebanese border, precisely at a moment when both countries are more volatile.
On Friday, journalist Ali Branstien reported in Hebrew daily Ma’ariv that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hinted in his meeting earlier this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel will prevent the Assad regime of making the S-300 missiles operational.
The paper reported the Russians were “shocked” from the prime minister’s “boldness.” Sources that were briefed on the meeting told Ma’ariv that Putin had “understood exactly what Netanyahu meant,” and that “it came as no surprise to Moscow” when National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror warned European diplomats Israel might take such an action.
The contract, that was signed in 2010 before the outbreak of the civil unrest in Syria, was worth $1 billion according to Vedomosti.
The report in Kommersant indicated that following the delivery of the weapons in 2014, six additional month would be required for the training of personnel and tests before systems could be fully operational.
Ariel Ben Solomon and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.