Russia’s official news agency, RIA-Novosti, confirmed that the KGB state has signed a contract to supply S-300s to Iran and is carrying out that contract. This confirms an Israeli intelligence report published days ago in Haaretz. According to Jane’s, the agreement was signed in 2007.
The Russian move apparently follows a visit by Senator Richard Lugar to Moscow. If not for Kissinger’s involvement, we might have taken Lugar’s trip for routine business on Russian de-nuclearization. This might indeed been the case: in the wake of the Poland ABM and Georgia debacles, Russia vowed to stop reprocessing its old nuclear warheads which it—technically—sells to the United States at throwaway prices. The deal, in force since the early 1990s, is widely viewed in Russia as hugely detrimental to Russian security and economic interests.
Lugar, a Republican, is close to Obama, and very probably delivered a message from him to Putin. Used to forceful and harmless negotiations in Harvard classrooms, Obama—we may guess—overplayed his hand with the Russians and grossly offended Putin, who retaliated with a move against America’s Jewish clients.
S-300PMU is Russia’s top-of-the-line, export-grade anti-aircraft battery, which would protect Iranian nuclear sites against Israeli attack.
The S-300 anti-aircraft battery sale is odd. Theoretically, Russians deliver to Iran a stripped-down export version of S-300, a copy of Cyprus’ anti-aircraft battery, which IAF successfully jammed in the Mediterranean exercises. In a few months, Turkey will receive its own S-300 from Russia, and has already pledged to make it available to Israeli Air Force for training. In its export version, S-300 didn’t live up to its advertised capacity to intercept any mass-produced aircraft.
With an Israeli strike on Iran still an option, the Russians would have no interest in discrediting their top-notch weapon. So why the sale? The immediate reason is that the Russian government is making its way back into Middle East politics. By jeopardizing Israel’s plans to attack Iran and the US threats to the same effect, Russia positions itself as a power to be consulted on all Middle East affairs. This signifies a return to the typical Soviet policy of propping up conflicts all over the world as the cheapest way to maintain geopolitical significance.
Another possibility is that the S-300 anti-aircraft battery supplied to Iran is not an export version, but a much more capable Russian domestic type that IAF has not been trained to circumvent. Though a violation of international treaties, that is not unthinkable, as Russia practically agreed to deliver the immensely more powerful S-400 to Syria. Technically, the S-400 will be located on Russian-leased naval base in Syrian port of Tartus to protect the Russian navy; but in practice the anti-aircraft battery will protect most of the Syrian territory against Israeli planes.
Israel earlier presented the Russian government with Sergiev Courtyard, a prime and extremely sensitive piece of real estate in Jerusalem, as a goodwill gesture for Russian promises to abstain from supplying anti-aircraft batteries to Iran.
Israel’s window of opportunity for attacking Iran is closing rapidly. In this regard, the S-300 delivery to Iran might be a good news for Israeli leaders who seek a plausible reason to put up with the Iranian nuclear program.
In a separate deal, Russia deliverd ten MIG-29 jets to Lebanon free. The Russians are not bothered by the fact that Hezbollah fully controls the Lebanese government.