The cash-strapped Russians have become less choosy these days about clients for their prized S-300 defensive systems and even more advanced S-400 missiles. They are now ready to sell the former – not just to Iran, but also to Egypt, Syria and the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah.
Iran won this breakthrough with the signing of a new military cooperation pact in Tehran Tuesday, Jan. 20, between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Iranian counterpart Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan.
“The two countries have decided to settle the S-300s problem," the Iranian defense ministry said, while Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, a former ministry official, added: "A step was taken in the direction of cooperation on the economy and arms technology, at least for such defensive systems as the S-300 and S-400. Probably we will deliver them."
The S-300 has been a bone of contention between Moscow and Tehran since 2007, when Russia contracted to sell Iran the S-300 missile system, for which Tehran paid $800 m, and never delivered because of strong objections by United States and Israel.
Today, both Iran and Russia are under Western sanctions and willing to help each other impede US Middle East interventions. President Obama is leaning hard on Europe to withhold arms and weapons systems from the Russian army, to punish President Vladimir Putin for his actions in Ukraine and his annexation of Crimea.
Until now, the Russians were wary of burning all their bridges to the US administration and sidestepped outright confrontation with Washington by keeping open controlled exit hatches, in case an opening for a fresh start presented itself.
One such hatch served to set Russia and the United States on the same side of the table in the six-power nuclear talks with Iran.
However, as the prospect receded of further let-ups in the frozen relations between Presidents Obama and Putin, Moscow began shutting those exits down.
Five months ago, Moscow signed a huge $3.5 bn arms deal with Egypt, financed by Saudi Arabia. This closed the Egyptian military market to the US munitions industry.
With its cooperation pact of Jan. 20, Russia became the Iranian armed forces’ primary supplier of new and sophisticated weapons systems,up to and including S-400 missiles – in defiance of the arms embargo against the Islamic Republic and US policies at large.
Iran's Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, in particular, stood up and urged greater cooperation as a means of opposing American ambitions in the region. "Iran and Russia are able to confront the expansionist intervention and greed of the United States through cooperation, synergy and activating strategic potential capacities," Dehghan said. "As two neighbors, Iran and Russia have common viewpoints toward political, regional and global issues."
He said that the new agreement includes expanded counter-terrorism cooperation, exchanges of military personnel for training purposes and an understanding for each country's navy to more frequently use the other's ports. They already cooperate in supporting Syria's Bashar Assad.
Most of all, debkafile’s political sources note that the pact with Moscow strengthens Tehran’s hand in the ongoing nuclear talks with the six powers. Iran’s negotiators are better able to stand up to the efforts of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to extract more concessions on its nuclear ambitions, in order to reach a comprehensive accord, after interminable postponements, by the next deadline of June 30, 2015.
The S-300 missile system, which is designed to intercept aircraft and missiles, including cruise missiles, was for years the emblem of the most advanced Russian weaponry, capable in Iranian hands of deterring Israel from attacking their nuclear program.
However, over the years, the Israeli Air Force will have developed and tested methods, whether by aerial or cyber warfare, for beating the S-300, whose workings became increasingly exposed as they were supplied to European countries, notably Greece.
On the quiet, as recently as 2013, Russia let Iran and Syria have components of S-300 batteries as installments in advance of supplies of complete systems. Last year, Moscow promised to consider future supplies to Hizballah in Lebanon as well.
Russia’s policy evidently envisages Israel’s partial encirclement by batteries of S-300 missile systems from the north and south and both S-300 and S-400 batteries from Iran to the east.