Russia Selling Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles to Iran — The Lessons

[This analysis was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]

Both Israel and the United States were surprised by Russia’s decision, announcedMonday, to unfreeze its sale of the advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran.

The Missile Man: Vladimir Putin

The Missile Man: Vladimir Putin

Amid American pressure and Israeli persuasion, and mainly because of its own interests, Russia decided several years ago to suspend its decision to sell the weapons system to Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has now announced that, against the backdrop of the emerging Iran nuclear deal, he has decided to cancel the freeze and go through with the transaction.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized that the S-300 is a defensive system.

The decision points to at least four central conclusions:

1. The sanctions regime is disintegrating.

2. To strike Iran’s nuclear facilities will be more difficult, but not impossible, for the Israeli and US air forces. It will undoubtedly be more difficult for the Israel Air Force, which doesn’t possess stealth bombers.

3. Russia is not ready to lose Iran as its “asset” in the Middle East.

4. Despite Israel’s policy of appeasement toward Russia, the influence of Jerusalem’s foreign policy on Putin is negligible.

One of the biggest achievements of the international community, led by the US, in regard to Iran’s nuclear program was the formation of an international consensus that included Russia and China.

Despite the fact that Russia and China had interests that often differed diametrically from those of the US and the EU, they have agreed since 2006 to join in both Security Council and Western sanctions.

This was accomplished in large part because of the wise approach of Washington, which insisted on an Iran policy carried out by consensus.

Without this approach, the harsh sanctions which Israel requested be levied against Iran and which led Tehran to crawl to the negotiating table to reach a deal (which still has not been put in writing or signed and is therefore solely a framework of principles) would not have been put in place.

However, now it seems that Russia has decided to go back to its independent policy toward Iran.

One of the reasons this decision was made is that Moscow fears that, after a final agreement is reached, there will be a thaw in tense relations between Tehran and Washington. Common interests between the two countries are already beginning to surface, such as on the issue of the war against Islamic State. Russia will do all in its power to retain Iran within its sphere of influence and as a massive trade partner. At play are several major deals involving $20 billion worth of oil, grain and more.

Despite Israel’s efforts – led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and which included a number of trips by him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intended to find the way to Putin’s heart, especially as regards arming Iran – when it comes to things that touch upon Moscow’s essential interests, Russia doesn’t take Israel’s opinion into account.

Instead of bashing the Russian decision, the official Israeli response, as expressed by Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, is to blame the US. As Israel sees it, the negotiations and impending deal on Iran’s nuclear program, which the Obama administration is pushing, are responsible.

An Israeli military option – if it exists at all – will become even more remote, if and when the S-300 is delivered to Iran and deployed to defend its skies.

It is one of the most advanced weapons systems in the world, capable of shooting down planes and missiles of every kind, including cruise missiles, with the help of advanced radar with detection abilities up to 300 kilometers.

Despite this, the Israel Air Force can still carry out an attack.

However, the dangers that such a mission would pose and the price in lives that would be lost and in planes that would be shot down will be higher from now on. Much higher.

The US definitely still has the ability to evade and neutralize the S-300 and to carry out a more effective attack than could Israel.

April 15, 2015

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