Olmert fails to get Russian guarantees on arms sales to Iran

By Yaakov Katz, October 8, 2008

Nearing the end of his term in office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a lightning trip to Moscow this week in an effort to persuade the Kremlin not to sell advanced missile systems to Iran and Syria.

At the core of the talks was an Iranian request to purchase the advanced and long-range S-300 anti-aircraft missile system that would severely curtail the Israeli Air Force's freedom in the skies if a military strike was launched against the Iran's nuclear installations.

The S-300 is one of the most advanced multi-target anti-aircraft-missile systems in the world today and has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 kms and can hit targets at altitudes of 90,000 feet.

While Russia has yet to sell the system to Iran, Tehran claimed last year that Moscow was to equip them with S-300 systems and media reports have quoted senior Israeli officials saying that they will be delivered by the end of 2008.

While Mr Olmert did not receive a guarantee from Russian President Dimitri Medvedev that the system would not be sold to Iran, the Israeli and Russian leaders did decide to upgrade bilateral defence relations and to establish a new mechanism to coordinate issues of mutual interest such as arms deals in the Middle East.

Mr Olmert's trip to Moscow was widely viewed in Israel as a publicity stunt by the premier, who last month resigned following the Kadima primaries. He will stay in office until Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni succeeds in forming a new coalition. If she fails, general elections will be held and Mr Olmert could stay in office until mid-2009.

In addition to discussing arms deals in the region, Mr Olmert also urged his Russian counterpart to use his leverage in Tehran in getting the Iranians to suspend their enrichment of uranium, a key component for a nuclear bomb.

Israeli Military Intelligence recently revealed that Iran has already up to two-thirds of the amount of enriched uranium needed for a nuclear device.

Following his meeting with Mr Medvedev, Mr Olmert told reporters that the Russian leader said he opposed to a nuclear Iran and was very critical of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel rhetoric.

Mr Olmert received an unexpected visitor at his hotel on Tuesday morning - former Chelsea manager Avram Grant. Mr Grant and Mr Olmert, an avid football fan, are old friends.


    Last updated: 11:26am, October 8 2008