Cracks in Russia-Iran pact. Moscow holds back SU-35 jets delivery to Tehran

After waiting a year for promised Russian warplanes, Iran’s Air Force Chief Brig.-Gen Hamid Vahedi admitted this week: “Regarding the purchase of Su-35 fighter-jets [from Russia], we need them, but we don’t know when they will be added to our squadron.”

Just a year ago, Iran began supplying Russian forces fighting in Ukraine with suicide drones. Their role in the war has been critical. In return, Moscow contracted to deliver to Iran its most sophisticated warplane, the Sukhoi-35, in the course of 2023. Two months ago, Tehran began remitting payment for the jets. Today, Iran’s air force chief does not seem sure he will get them at all.
American intelligence sources speculate that recent exchanges between Moscow and Israel may have caused the Kremlin to have second thoughts about letting the Islamic Republic lay hands on this major asset to its air power. They note that high-ranking Russian and Israeli officials met on June 13 for a conversation that was described as “open and frank.” The prospect of Su-35s falling in the hands of Israel’s archenemy was almost certainly discussed.

Last week, in a further sign of coolness towards Tehran, Mocow delivered a striking diplomatic blow to the Islamic Republic by releasing a joint statement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) affirming the United Arab Emirates’ claim to three strategic Gulf islands. Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa and challenging Iran’s claim. Those islands in fact serve Iran as military bases for its Revolutionary Guards.

Russia’s ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry in Tehran for a dressing down and told categorically that “the three islands belong to Iran forever.”

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