In a rare display of rebuke, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, spoke out against his country’s defense policy to transfer missiles to Syria. As reported by Haaretz, Rabbi Berel Lazar, from the Chabad Movement, made a public statement last Thursday, at a conference attended by several hundred people, which was organized by the Limmud FSU cultural group, in Sighet, Romania. “I think it’s a mistake that will only augment the region’s problems,” he said to Israeli journalist Eli Mandelbaum, regarding the transfer of advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
Russia announced two weeks ago that it will be supplying Syria with an entire shipment of the S-300 missile systems. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that the delivery has now been completed. The decision follows the downing of a Russian intelligence gathering aircraft, which killed 15 Russian servicemen. The plane was shot down by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli strike over Syrian airspace, but Russia says Israel was the indirect cause of the incident.
For years, Israel and its allies have lobbied Russia not to give the S-300 system to Syria and others in the region. They have explained that it would be a game changer, weaken Israel’s ability to stop terrorist threats, including those made by the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.
Lazar, who is one of two Chief Rabbis in Russia, usually opposes excessive involvement by Jewish religious leaders into Russian politics, and generally steers clear of criticizing the government in his region. Still, Lazar, an Italian native who reportedly meets regularly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, spoke out saying he would like to “speak about [the S-300 issue] with the president.” He said, “We explain, I’d say, the sensitivity of this issue to our brethren in Israel, in Zion, and we hope Israel and Russia can continue to cooperate in stopping terrorism, stopping Iran, and that Israel will continue to guard its borders and neutralize any threat before it reaches its doorstep.”
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced at a cabinet meeting that he will soon be meeting with President Putin, to try to improve relations and calm tensions following the downed Russian aircraft. The date and venue for this meeting have not been unveiled.