Moscow and Washington have been competing for Tehran’s favors since Hasan Rouhani was elected Iranian president.
US media are throwing out hints that the new man is ready to extend an olive branch to the West after he is sworn in Sunday Aug. 4. (See a separate article in this issue).
In Moscow, various sources are trumpeting Vladimir Putin’s forthcoming visit to Tehran as the first ever by a Russian president – except that getting it pinned down has proved tricky.
At first, sources in Moscow said Putin would attend the Iranian president’s swearing-in ceremony next Sunday. That plan was quickly dropped when the invitation list showed no attendees of the Russian president’s rank, only second or third-tier leaders.
Two new dates were bandied about this week by sources in Moscow: August 12 or August 16. At length, an anonymous Russian official confirmed both dates: Putin’s visit to Tehran would span four days in all.
An official visit of this unusual length attests to a major push by the Russian leader to beat the Obama administration in the rush to the Iranian door.
Super-advanced Russian missiles may be offered Tehran
It will be long enough for him to sit down with Iran’s leaders and forge shared policies – not just on Iran’s nuclear program but on key Middle East and Persian Gulf issues in general. Furthermore, the Russian leader understands that deals on cooperation with the new president and exchanges between members of his entourage and the new ministers will not be binding without the blessing of Supreme Leader Aytatollah Ali Khamenei.
Four days give him enough time to get together with the boss.
Meeting the ayatollah in person is also important for his game of upmanship with the US president.
Washington sources talk excitedly about building a direct line from President Barack Obama to the new Iranian president, whereas Putin hopes to top this by getting to see the man who calls the shots in Tehran, the supreme leader.
Moscow is putting out bait to catch the fish. A second wave of reports swept the Russian media this week about advanced arms Moscow was contemplating offering Tehran – namely the sale of S-300VM Antey-2500 air defense systems, a member of the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile family.
The S-300s were originally developed for Soviet air defense forces, but when the ground forces wanted a comparable system tailored to their special needs, the S-300V was developed and later upgraded as the improved S-300VM version.
Tehran may like the Antey-2500 better than the S-300
By offering this weapon, Moscow hopes to persuade Tehran to drop its lawsuit against Russia for reneging on the $800 million contract signed in 2007 for the delivery of five S-300 antimissile batteries. The deal was revoked in 2010 by a law signed by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev which limited Russian military cooperation with Iran. Tehran filed a lawsuit with an international arbitrage in Geneva, demanding $4 billion in damages as compensation.
Moscow is not planning to revoke the 2010 law, which was enacted in keeping with a UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran over its nuclear program. But the Russians can get around it: The S-300VM systems are not listed among the weapons banned from sale to Iran and are not therefore covered by the law.
Tehran might in fact find the Antey-2500, more attractive than the S-300, military experts believe, because it is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles. There is speculation that a possible Israeli attack on Iran would start with a massive missile attack on Iran’s key air defense sites and military air bases, before follow-up air strikes are directed at fortified nuclear enrichment facilities.
An S-300VM battery is capable of taking down aerial targets moving at a speed of 4,500kph and tracking and engaging up to 24 aircraft or up to 16 ballistic missiles simultaneously.
It has a range of up to 200km for aircraft and up to 40km for ballistic missiles. The system takes no more than 6 minutes for a trained crew to switch from travel position to combat position.
Saudi funding if Russian arms replaced US weapons sales to Egypt
The Saudis were a step ahead of everyone else in reading the emerging Russian-Iranian map, according to DEBKA Weekly's Gulf sources.
After a short trip to Paris, Chief of the Saudi General Intelligence Prince Bandar Bin Sultan landed Wednesday, July 31 on the Kremlin’s doorstep and was immediately received by President Putin.
The conversation between the head of this superpower and the spy chief of the strongest and richest nation in the Gulf region was much more than a polite exchange. Our Moscow sources disclose that it ranged over Iran, the Syrian war and the turmoil in Egypt.
An official communiqué said only that "A wide number of questions regarding Saudi-Russia relations were discussed as well as the situation in North Africa and the Middle East."
However, our sources learned that Prince Bandar was interested to hear about Putin’s planned Tehran visit and how far he was prepared to go to endorse Iran’s nuclear agenda.
Regarding Syria, the Saudi spy chief asked how Moscow would react if President Obama finally decided on limited military intervention in Syria (See the opening item in this issue on the disagreements between President Obama and Saudi leaders on this).
On the Egyptian question, Bandar asked how Moscow would respond to a decision by Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Fattah El-Sisi to run for president – in defiance of Washington and Brussels.
(See the item in this issue on the general’s election campaign).
Under discussion too, according to our military sources, was the substitution of Russian arms for US weapons in the event of a cutoff of US deliveries to Egypt. The Saudis would foot the bill.