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Iraq warns Israel on using airspace in Iran strike
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) June 03, 2013


No Russian S-300s to Syria before 2014: Israel's Yaalon
Jerusalem (AFP) June 03, 2013 - Russia cannot deliver advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian regime before 2014, Israel's defence minister asserted on Monday.

"We are following this matter with concern, but no deliveries have taken place. If they do take place, it will not be before next year," Moshe Yaalon told the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defence, in comments reported by army radio.

The minister did not elaborate on how he had arrived at his conclusions on this time frame.

On May 28, Yaalon warned that Israel would "know what do to" if Russia fulfilled the delivery of the S-300 system.

His words appeared to be a veiled allusion to military action along the lines of Israeli several strikes on Syrian soil earlier this year which targeted weapons from Iran destined for Hezbollah.

Addressing MPs at the committee, Yaalon reiterated that Israel was not interested in becoming embroiled in Syria's internal conflict, although he outlined four circumstances in which it would take action.

"We won't get involved in the civil war as long as they don't harm our interests, or if there is an attempt to transfer precise weaponry, especially to Hezbollah, an attempt to take over chemical weapons, or a heating-up of the border with continuing incidents of fire at our territory."

Last month an Israeli army patrol in the occupied Golan Heights came under fire from Syrian regime forces over the armistice line. Israeli troops responded by blasting the Syrian army bunker from which the shooting came.

It was the latest of a number of incidents in the Golan in the past few months that have included apparently stray shells and small-arms fire from Syria.

On Friday, several Russian media outlets reported that Moscow had not yet delivered the S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Damascus and that the system could not be delivered this year.

The reports contradicted an interview Assad gave last week to Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV in which he implied that Moscow had already delivered some of the promised weaponry.

"All the agreements with Russia will be honoured and some already have been recently," he told the Lebanese station.

Deployment of the S-300 system would likely complicate any further Israeli airstrikes on Syria.

On the question of the state of the conflict in Syria, Yaalon said that regime forces now controlled no more than 40 percent of the country, and that rebels had seized "at least four neighbourhoods in Damascus."

He also confirmed Israel had opened a field hospital in the occupied Golan Heights to care for the wounded coming from Syria.

"It is a humanitarian gesture. But Israel does not intend to open a refugee camp" for civilians fleeing the fighting, he added.

Baghdad has warned Israel that it would respond to any attempts by the Jewish state to use Iraqi airspace for a strike against Iran's controversial nuclear programme, a top Iraqi minister told AFP.

The remarks from Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister responsible for energy affairs, mark the first time a senior Iraqi official has publicly warned Israel against entering its airspace -- the most direct route -- to hit targets in Iran.

Shahristani also said that Iraq had received assurances from Washington that the United States would not use its airspace to attack Iran, which Western powers believe is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran has repeatedly denied the claim.

"The (Americans) have assured us that they will never violate Iraqi airspace or Iraqi sovereignty by using our airspace to attack any of our neighbours," Shahristani said in an interview in his office in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.

"We have also warned Israel that if they violate Iraqi airspace, they will have to bear the consequences."

The minister said that the issue had been discussed in Iraq's national security council, and the warning had been passed to Israel "through countries that they have relations with".

Asked how Iraq would react to any such Israeli attempt to target Iran's nuclear programme, Shahristani said: "Obviously, Iraq wouldn't be disclosing its reaction, to allow Israel to take that into account."

Western powers led by Washington along with Israel are at loggerheads with Iran over allegations that its nuclear programme is aimed at developing an atomic weapon.

Tehran has repeatedly rejected the charges, and in turn accuses its arch-foes Israel and the United States of waging a deadly campaign of sabotage against its disputed nuclear programme, which it insists is for peaceful purposes.

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has refused to rule out military action against Iran.

Shahristani said a similar policy applied to the use of Iraq's airspace for any military action in neighbouring Syria, where rebels have fought a bloody civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.

Iraq has sought to avoid publicly taking sides between Assad and those opposed to his rule, fearful of a violent spillover of the conflict in Syria, with which it shares a 600-kilometre (375-mile) border.

But Baghdad has been accused by the United States of turning a blind eye to Iranian flights through its airspace carrying military equipment for Assad's regime.

International powers have imposed biting sanctions on Iran in a bid to force it to cooperate and open up its nuclear programme for more invasive investigations, but Shahristani said that because of Iraq's economic ties with its eastern neighbour, it would only abide by UN sanctions, and not those implemented by Washington and Europe.

He pointed in particular to Iraq's need for gas imports from Iran in order to fuel its power stations, with the country attempting to rebuild its badly-damaged electricity infrastructure.

"Iraq has its own national interest," he said. "Power generation is very critical ... and there is no way we can fuel our new power stations, that are being constructed and will be ready before the end of the year, without having gas from Iran."

"We expect the US, as our ally, to understand the need of the Iraqi people for power generation. If any friend can make the gas available from other sources, by all means, we would be very happy to consider that option."

"But, given our geographical location, the only gas available to Iraq is from Iran now, and we have explained this to our American friends."

He added that Iraq had held talks earlier this year with Syria and Iran for a gas pipeline that would go from Iran through Iraq to Syria, but no funds or timeline had been agreed for the proposed project.

Another pipeline carrying gas from Iran to supply power stations in Baghdad and central Iraq is under construction, he said.

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