Fear over Russia air defence sale to Iran

By Yaakov Katz, December 23, 2008

Concern mounted in Israel this week over reports that Russia has finalised plans to sell an anti-aircraft missile system to Iran that would make any potential airstrike against their nuclear facilities far more difficult.

Israel is concerned that Russia will sell Iran the S-300, one of the most advanced multi-target anti-aircraft-systems in the world. It has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12. It has a range of 200 kilometers and can hit targets at altitudes of 90,000 feet.

First used by the USSR in 1979, it is designed to defend industrial and military bases and to repel enemy aircraft.

On Monday, Russia’s state arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, said that it was supplying Iran with weapons of a “defensive nature”. The statement did not specify which systems.

The Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Esmaeil Kosari, deputy chairman of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, as saying that Tehran would soon take delivery of the S-300 system from Russia.

“This system would severely impair Israel’s ability to launch an effective strike against Iran,” said Yiftah Shapir, head of the Military Balance Project at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. “It is one of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems in the world.”

Last week, Defence Minister Ehud Barak dispatched a top aide to Moscow to try to get a commitment from the Kremlin not to sell the system to Iran.

Defence officials said that the reports could be connected to a Russian request to purchase Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Israel has yet to make a decision whether to sell the drones to Russia,” one defence official explained. “The reports on the S-300 sale could be a way of sending a message to Israel to sell the drones, otherwise Russia will sell the S-300 to Iran.”

Diplomatic officials said that they were assured by the Kremlin that they would stand by a commitment made to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier this year that they will not sell weaponry to Iran that could alter the balance of power in the Middle East.

Last updated: 6:50pm, December 23 2008