(Adds analyst’s comments, background)
By Maria Kiselyova and Dan Williams
MOSCOW/JERUSALEM, April 23 (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Russia had not yet decided whether it would deliver advanced S-300 missile systems to Syria, but would not make a secret of the matter if it took such a decision, the TASS news agency reported.
Russia’s daily Kommersant newspaper, citing unnamed military sources, reported earlier on Monday that Russia might start supplying the anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria in the near future. The Kremlin declined to comment.
Lavrov said on Friday that Western military strikes on Syria this month had removed any moral obligation Russia had to withhold the missile systems from its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We’ll have to wait to see what specific decisions the Russian leadership and representatives of Syria will take,” TASS cited Lavrov as saying on Monday during a visit to Beijing.
“There is probably no secret about this and it can all be announced (if a decision is taken),” added Lavrov.
Kommersant said on Monday that experts believed that Israel would react negatively to any decision to supply the missiles and might bomb the area where they would be deployed.
A Russian diplomat who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Israel had asked Moscow not to supply the Syrian military with the S-300s. An Israeli government spokesman declined comment.
Israel has made repeated efforts to persuade Moscow not to sell the system to Syria, as it fears this would hinder its aerial capabilities against arms shipments to Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. Israel has carried out scores of air strikes against suspected shipments.
Justin Bronk, an analyst from the Royal United Services Institute in London, said previous attempts by the Assad regime to buy the S-300 were never concluded because Israel managed to persuade Russia, through the supply of unmanned drone technology, not to go through with the deals.
He said he thought it was now likely that Russia would supply Syria with the S-300 system, although it was unclear which of the several versions, with significantly differing capabilities, Syria would receive. (Writing by Polina Nikolskaya and Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Andrew Roche)