Move draws Israel more prominently into focus

Preparations for an international peace conference on Syria may have been jolted by the European Union’s (EU) decision to lift an arms embargo on the embattled nation, opening the door for the transfer of weapons by the member countries to the opposition.

Russia has responded furiously with Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister, charging the EU with pursuing “double standards” — slamming the streaming criticism that has emerged from the West on Moscow’s contractual transfers of weaponry to the embattled government.

Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s envoy to NATO, also took-on the EU warning that the abolition of the embargo would escalate the conflict. “We need to refrain from taking steps that would be contrary to this logic. Such steps include armed or non-lethal support to the opposition. This just adds fuel to the fire,” he said on Tuesday.

Fears of the transfer of S-300 missiles, which can effectively deter Israeli airstrikes in Syria, and the imposition of a Libya-style no-fly zone, forced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Moscow earlier this month and meet President Vladimir Putin.

Escalatory dynamic

The EU’s decision seems to have set in motion an escalatory dynamic that is drawing Israel more prominently into focus. The possibility of the export to Syria of the S-300 systems had prompted Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalonto say these missiles had not yet left Russian shores.

“I hope they will not leave, and if, God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do.”

Israel’s Minister of International Relations Yuval Steinitz warned that the S-300 systems could be used to destroy Israeli civilian planes over Tel Aviv.

Soon after the EU announced its decision in Brussels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there were “no immediate plans to send arms to Syria”. While Britain and France were the chief advocates of lifting the embargo, they had to overcome stiff resistance from Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic.

These countries pointed out that the removal of the embargo may escalate the conflict as it would also encourage Russia to pump fresh war material in the arsenal of the regime.

Amid the tug-of-war between Russia and a divided EU, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his American counterpart John Kerry on Monday met in Paris to lay the foundation for peace talks.

“Both of us, Russia and the United States, are deeply committed, remain committed to trying to implement the Geneva I principles, which require a transitional government by mutual consent that has full executive authority in order to allow the people of Syria to decide the future of Syria,” said Mr. Kerry. Mr. Lavrov sounded less upbeat — remarking that arranging for peace talks was a “tall order”.

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