Moscow may hand Iran S-300, breach arms embargo if Assad ousted
DEBKAfileSpecial Report July 5, 2012, 1:21 PM (GMT+02:00)
Moscow has removed the gloves in its defense of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad. Wednesday, July 4, senior official Ruslan Pukhov warned: “If the Syrian regime is changed by force or if Russia doesn’t like the outcome, it most likely will respond by selling S-300s to Iran.”
Pukhov, who sits on the Russian Defense Ministry’s advisory board and heads a defense affairs think tank in Moscow, added: “The fall of the Syrian government would significantly increase the chances of a strike on Iran. Resuming S-300 shipments to Iran may be a very timely decision.”
Moscow has since 2010 withheld the S-300 air defense system from Iran at the request of the US and Israel. The Pukhov statement indicated that, just as that was the correct decision for the time, the strategic situation in the Middle East with regard to Syria and Iran has since changed, and so providing Iran with these weapons would be the timely decision now.
Kremlin strategic thinking on the region shifted radically in August 2011.
On August 8, two weeks before NATO and Arab forces drove the Libyan rebel invasion of Tripoli to oust Muammar Qaddafi, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, warned in an interview to the Russian Izvestia, “NATO is planning a military campaign against Syria to help overthrow the regime of President Bashar Assad with a long-reaching goal of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran.”
To this day, Moscow is certain that the same Western-Arab coalition will sooner or later intervene militarily in Syria and then move against Iran.
Sources in Washington and Jerusalem found evidence of that suspicion in comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Israel on June 25. He is reported to have scattered vague threats indicating that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s overthrow would be treated by Moscow as violating Security Council resolutions and elicit Russia’s exit from the international arms embargo on the Syrian regime. Putin was not specific.
Russian S-300 missiles batteries would make the targeting of Iranian nuclear sites by US and Israeli warplanes difficult because that weapon is reputed to have a near-zero miss ratio for intercepting ballistic and cruise missiles – even when they come in at very low altitudes.
In late 2009, Moscow began sending Iran some of the technical accessories for the S-300 batteries while withholding the actual missiles and their control and radar systems, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report. During 2010 and the first half of 2011, Iranian teams were trained in their use at bases in Russia. Moscow continually assured Tehran that with patience, US-Israeli pressure would abate and the missiles could be released.
In any case, Israeli air crews are at bases in Greece training in counter-measures since developed to outwit the S-300, debkafile’s military sources disclose.
Tehran has tried to manufacture homemade equivalents to the S-300 on its own – drawing on the knowhow of Iranian military personnel trained in their use in Russia to form designer and construction teams working from blueprints provided during their training.
China, which has received these systems from Russia and is replicating them, was quietly approached by Iran for assistance. Beijing is reported to have handed over some of the technical materials but not the key blueprints for enabling their manufacture.
That is why Iranian generals often report progress in producing an air defense system similar to the Russian model and declare it will be operational by mid-2013, but have never displayed a homemade prototype.