Russia Will Now Sell Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missile System to Iran — A Game-Changer Preventing an Israeli or US Attack?
by YOSSI MELMAN
(The co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.)
This time it’s final. After nearly a decade of delays, suspensions, pressures, and tough international battles, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the state-owned manufacturer Almaz-Anety now confirm that the sale of ground-to-air S-300 missile systems to Iran is a done deal.
What is still to be determined is the scope of the deal – whether three or four batteries will be sold.
There is here a great deal of irony. For nearly a decade Israeli prime ministers pushed hard at the gates of the Kremlin and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to sell the advanced missile and radar system to Tehran.
Until recently it seemed that the Israeli lobbying — backed by a U.S. tailwind — was paying off. Despite a signed contract and an advance payment, Russia found excuses not to honor the deal with Iran and even announced that it wouldn’t deliver the systems.
But now that the missile deal is under way — in the wake of the deal reached in Vienna to restrict Iran’s nuclear program — the depth of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure is exposed.
This story has several layers. The nuclear deal is a major part of it. In his opposition to the emerging agreement with Iran, Netanyahu designed a policy of “all out” on all international fronts. He embarked on a collision course with the President Barack Obama. He tried to appease Putin. He kept pummeling European politicians with stories likening Iran’s hostility to the horrors of Nazi Germany.
Netanyahu acted like a gambler with no exit strategy or fallback position.
But Obama and Putin, in the end, ignored him. Netanyahu’s miscalculations pushed Israel into an undesirable position. It had little influence on the content of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. It also left Israel with no levers to influence Russia or modify its decision to go ahead with the missile deal.
It didn’t have to be this way. A more cautious and sensible approach by Netanyahu would not have prevented the nuclear deal, but it could have given Israel a chance to influence its outcome and ensure the drafting of tougher clauses regarding the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites.
It was recently revealed that the world powers caved in, by leaving some of the inspection rules up to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA, according to a secret side deal, will let Iranians provide photos, videos, and environmental samples from the Parchin site — although the IAEA says it will always be supervising and verifying that what it is handed is authentic.
Such verification is unlikely to be reliable. Israeli and U.S. intelligence say Iran, in the Parchin military base, conducted unlawful experiments to test nuclear chain reactions — simulating, in effect, nuclear explosions.
Had Netanyahu been more measured and surgical in his public opposition to the nuclear deal, he may have been able to reach a secret understanding with Putin about which arms to sell to Iran and which should not be delivered.
Now it’s too late. The sale of the S-300 batteries is a game-changer.
The batteries belong to a family of missiles and radars that were first developed and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the mid ’70s and deployed by the Red Army in 1979. Since then, new generations and models have been upgraded and turned into one of the best of its kind.
True, what Russia agreed to deliver is not the state of the art in this line of batteries. There are already more advanced versions operated only by the Russian army.
But still, what Russia is selling is disturbingly good — providing sufficient grounds to be highly concerned. The battery’s radar is capable of detecting and spotting hostile warplanes at a distance of hundreds of kilometers — and then lock in and accurately launch guided missiles.
Iran is sure to deploy the batteries to defend its nuclear sites. Their presence will make it much more difficult for any air force – be it Israeli or American – to operate, if one day in the future a decision will be made to attack Iran.
President Obama himself has said that “the military option” is very much alive, if Iran violates the nuclear deal and “breaks out” to produce nuclear bombs.
Yet, despite the importance of the deal, the skies are not going to fall. In the cat and mouse game between an attacker and defender, the attacker almost always has the upper hand.
There is no doubt that the Israeli and American air forces will find a way, with clever technological and operational solutions, to circumvent the S-300 systems.
The Israeli and U.S. militaries, perhaps even working together, will be able to execute a mission — if so ordered by their governments.
The Russian deal also has larger implications. Just as we already witness long queues of international corporations courting Iran for lucrative deals in the civilian sectors, once sanctions are lifted next year, we can expect the same in the military field.
It is reported that China is thinking about selling Iran fighter planes, whichincidentally and ironically are equipped with Israeli-made avionics,including radars. These components were produced by Israel Aircraft Industries (now called Israel Aerospace Industries) 30 or so years ago for the Lavi project, the Israeli self-produced fighter plane. In the mid-’80s, under U.S. pressure, Israel canceled the project and sold some of its technological innovations to the apartheid regime of South Africa and to Communist China. The Chinese built their own J-10 fighter plane, based on the Israeli technology.
But will Iran have one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the region? No.
Despite enhanced Iranian efforts to use the nuclear deal as a launching pad to improve and modernize its armed forces, the ayatollahs will still be lagging behind their rivals and enemies in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have much better and more advanced military hardware, and are now negotiating with the U.S. for packages to compensate them for perceived, added dangers from the Iran nuclear deal. And money is not a problem for the Gulf countries.
As for Israel, its defense forces — the IDF — continue to be the strongest military force in the region. Israeli weapons developers are the most innovative on earth. Also, despite political annoyance at Israel’s prime minister, President Obama has pledged to maintain — and even increase — the QME: Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” in the Middle East.
Even when Iran gets the S-300 anti-aircraft system and other military acquisitions, it will be no match for Israel.