Since Moscow called off the sale of sophisticated Russian air-missile interceptor S-300 systems to Iran in keeping with UN Security Council sanctions, Tehran has been going around with an offer of a billion dollars to any country or group able to provide the blueprints for its manufacture.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources report Tehran is willing to pay cash on the nail – half in advance – for documented plans that would make it possible to go straight into production without delay.
There are two reasons for this largesse:
1. Iran's leaders are eager to pay a high price, financial or military, to teach Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a hard lesson for reneging on their three-year old contract for the sale of the S-300 missiles. When they discussed this among themselves, Iran's top officials admitted that Moscow's withdrawal was the most stinging and humiliating slap in the face any foreign government had given Tehran for years.
"We cannot let them get away with this," spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared. "We must find a way to punish the Russians."
2. Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) chiefs have concluded that without the S-300 anti-missile missiles or a comparable system, Iran will not be able to defend its nuclear plants – or even Tehran – against a US or Israel attack.
Iran's generals say Teheran indefensible without the S-300
Military action against Iran may seem unimaginable in some western capitals, but not in Tehran – and certainly not to IRGC chiefs.
The Guards' commander of Tehran province, Gen. Hossein Hamedani, told a closed meeting of his officers Monday, October 4 that whereas the government has a low estimate of the chances of facing attack, the military takes a different view, certain that the US would be ready to embark on an air offensive against Iran, including Tehran, if Washington saw the rift between the Iranian people and the regime growing wider.
Apart from offering a fortune for blueprints, our Iranian sources report that Tehran had been placing its trust mainly on Beijing as the source of S-300 missile technology. Outside Russia, China alone has technology close enough to the original for its manufacture.
Top Iranian military industry executives have been making top-secret visits to China in recent weeks, touring military industries, while Chinese military industrialists were invited to Tehran. Their discussions about multi-billion investments in joint new plants for producing advanced weapons were inevitably brought around to an Iranian plea for Beijing to name its price for the plans and the loan of Chinese military engineers and designers for co-producing the S-300 in Iran.
Tehran made the gesture of permitting Chinese warplanes heading for a joint air exercise with Turkey to refuel at an Iranian air base (See a separate article on this development), but so far with no positive response to this plea.
Chinese cagey about sharing S-300 technology
In the first place, the Chinese are reluctant to risk a whiplash response from Washington and Moscow for making the S-300's plans available to Tehran. In the second, our military sources are far from certain that Beijing actually possesses the requisite technology, although it will never admit this to the Iranians.
China has been buying S-300 interceptor missiles from Russia since 1991.
Western military experts believe that the latest S-300PMU2 system China bought from a Russia in 2009 gives the Chinese Liberation Army's Air Force limited ballistic missile defense capability for the first time. But did the Chinese indulge their practice of knocking off the originals to produce a Chinese copy of the blueprints – as they have done with all the weapons systems they have bought from Russia? No military or intelligence official in Asia or the West is prepared to say for certain.
The Chinese copy of the S-300 was reportedly designated HongQi 15. Some experts suggest that Chinese-assembled-S-300 missiles using Russian-made kits have already been tested by the PLA, but this cannot be confirmed.
In these delicate and complex circumstances, it is hard to imagine Beijing acceding to Iran's request -notwithstanding the temptation of Iran's petrodollars.
Tehran spreads its net among all recipients of Russian arms
While not giving up on Beijing, Tehran responded in typical fashion to Chinese caginess. An appointment was arranged for Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi to visit Baku Sunday, Oct. 10, taking with him for Azerbaijan's President Ilham Alyev the same offer that was put to Beijing.
The general proposed the two countries set up a big military industrial complex in Azerbaijan and Baku would send over to Iran teams of engineers and designers familiar with the S-300 to share their knowledge.
Vahidi, while touring military plants, did not neglect to offer million-dollar bribes to any professional personnel willing to work with Tehran, even if their government stayed out of such deals for fear of jeopardizing Azerbaijan's military and economic ties with American and Israeli interests.
Another Iranian bid for S-300 plans was carried to two other Russian allies – Armenia and Kazakhstan, when Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani visited Yerevan and Astana on October 10-11.
In Kazakhstan, Larijani sought to draw on the large fund of technology and experience local military engineers and technicians acquired in missile and electronic production during their years of employment at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome.
Other Iranian delegations are heading out to Minsk, Belarus, and Kiev in the Ukraine.