Last week, the Russians took the unusual step of disclosing that first deliveries had been made to Iran of advanced anti-air anti-missile Tor M1 missile systems. (See HOT POINTS Nov. 25). Moscow does not make a practice of going public on its arms sales – certainly not its highly controversial deals with Iran and, most of all, a weapons transaction which President George W. Bush personally asked Russian president Vladimir Putin several times not to implement.
As though to rub it in, Russian defense minister Sergey Ivanov referred to the sale twice this week.
In an interview with the German Spiegel magazine on Nov 27, he defended missile deliveries to Iran, arguing that the anti-air defense Tor M1 missile did not violate the balance of strength in the region. “Every country had the right to provide arms to another unless there are sanctions against the second,” he said
Then, Tuesday, Nov. 28, Ivanov went on the offensive:
“The planned deployment of a US missile defense system in Europe is intended to weaken Russia’s capacity for deterrence,” said the Russian defense minister. “We are told that this system is allegedly intended to intercept Iranian ballistic missiles. But Iran has no missiles of this class and is unlikely to obtain them in the foreseeable future.”(!)
DEBKA-net-Weekly’s military sources report that Israel’s concern about Iran’s missile and anti-missile capabilities is such that a special Israeli emissary, Gen. (Ret) Amos Gilead, former political coordinator in the defense ministry, was sent to Moscow Sunday, Nov. 26. He tried to persuade the Russians to stop transferring these sophisticated anti-missile systems to the Islamic republic – and got nowhere.
The general trod a familiar route. Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and heads of Israel’s national security council ex-General Giora Eiland and senior political adviser Eli Mizrahi, all came away empty-handed from appeals to the Kremlin to give up selling arms to Iran, Syria and the Hizballah. The Russians were uniformly polite but unmoved.
Larijani accuses Putin of selling outdated nuclear technology for Bushehr
Our Iranian sources report that Gilead’s arrival in Moscow happened to coincide with a Kremlin announcement that Russia’s nuclear chief would attend a session of a Russian-Iranian intergovernmental trade and economic commission to be held in Tehran on Dec. 11. The commission is co-chaired by Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, and Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
What is driving Moscow to go through on these deals with Tehran heedless of international opprobrium?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Moscow and Tehran sources disclose that since the early days of November, the Russian and Iranian governments have been locked in a heated quarrel and Moscow has been trying to cool the crisis.
It erupted on Nov. 11, when Iran’s powerful chief nuclear negotiator and head of its national security council Ali Larijani was a guest at Putin’s private dacha outside Moscow. The ambience was pastoral and serene; not so the atmosphere indoors where at least one temper ran high. A furious Larijani ended the row by slapping down a three-part ultimatum:
1. Moscow must stop dilly-dallying on the transfer of fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor.
2. The Russians cheated Iran by incorporating outdated technology in the Bushehr plant. Now they must install advanced systems in its place – and pay for the upgrade out of their own pockets. If Moscow refuses, Tehran will shop for the high grade products elsewhere and deduct the expense from the moneys owed Moscow.
Before the dacha set-to, Iranian sources dropped hints in Moscow that Tehran was taking advantage of Germany’s unemployment to head-hunt nuclear physicists for its program and hire them to replace Russian scientists and technicians.
3. Tehran would not fork out a cent to pay its debts to Moscow until demands No. 1 and 2 are met.
Putin listened to Larijani’s diatribe and then said calmly that he saw no reason to quarrel with Tehran. He said the Iranians ought to show some appreciation for the way Moscow is standing firm against heavy American pressure to sign off on UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, for its failure to suspend uranium enrichment.So far, Tehran has not carried out its threats. But since the Nov. 11 showdown, Moscow has made an effort to pour oil – or rather Tor M1 missiles – on troubled Iranian waters. Ivanov played his part by the interviews he gave to the Western media, while Putin additionally announced that Kiryenko, who is seen in Tehran as the vocal leader of the pro-Iranian lobby in Moscow, will visit the Iranian capital.