NEW YORK – Amid nuclear negotiations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has lifted a self-imposed ban Monday on the delivery to Iran of an air-defense missile system capable of shooting down U.S. and Israeli jets, increasing the possibility the Jewish state will launch a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear program, according to a defense expert.
After Russia signed an $800 million contract with Iran in 2007, delivery of the S-300 system was halted when Moscow decided to impose a ban in response to strong opposition to the deal from Israel and the George W. Bush administration.
But delivery of the S-300 air-defense system as the U.S. and its P5+1 coalition partners negotiate to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a “potential game-changer,” according to Clare Lopez, vice president at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, possibly prompting Israel to take military action before the system becomes operational.
She said that while Russia has a more advanced model, the S-400, the S-300 is “sufficiently sophisticated to upgrade significantly Iran’s ability to defend against any incoming military strike against its nuclear facilities.”
Once delivered by Russia and operational in Iran, she explained, it could “remove to a large extent a military option from the table in considering how to deal with Iran’s nuclear weapons program, by making it not impossible but much more difficult to conduct a successful air strike.”
“I don’t know what the Israeli calculations are about how far along the Iranian program is to making a bomb,” Lopez said. “But the window is closing on the time when an Israeli military strike would be feasible, and the installation of this system will close that window further. It’s possible the Israelis might see this as a step that would limit their options once installed.”
Talks give Iran ‘legitimacy’
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that in light of the “framework agreement” between Iran and the P5+1 coalition of the U.S., U.K., China, France, Russia and Germany, the embargo had been effectively ended.
It would allow Russia, Lavrov said, to reverse its 2010 decision to cancel a contract to deliver the S-300 missile system to Iran in response to pressure from the West following U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.
“Instead of demanding that Iran desist from the terrorist activity that it is carrying out in the Middle East and throughout the world, it is being allowed to arm itself with advanced weapons that will only increase its aggression,” Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Steinitz, according to the Times of Israel, said Russia’s move is “a direct result of the legitimacy that Iran is receiving from the nuclear deal that is being prepared, and proof that the Iranian economic growth which follows the lifting of sanctions will be exploited for arming itself and not for the welfare of the Iranian people.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week demanded that all sanctions on Iran be limited before any final agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program. The demand highlighted a difference with Secretary of State John Kerry, who suggested when the deal was first announced in Geneva on April 4 that the framework agreement called for sanctions to be lifted step-wise as Iran complied with agreed restrictions on the operation of its nuclear program.
Iran won’t ‘negotiate away’ nukes
Lopez pointed out Russia has encouraged Iran’s nuclear program since Ayatollah Khomeini brought about Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.
“The decision to deliver the S-300 to Iran is further evidence of Russia’s willingness to encourage Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons, that trace back to the Soviet Union,” she said.
Lopez also expressed concern that a military option is rapidly becoming the only way Iran’s nuclear weapons program is going to be stopped.
“It’s clear now Iran is not going to negotiate away their nuclear weapons program,” she said. “The P+1 and the IAEA are wasting time discussing issues like what type of centrifuges Iran is going to suspend when that’s not the issue.”
She noted the National Council of Resistance of Iran, NCRI, revealed Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program in 2002. Since then, any public information Iran has released about its nuclear program has been a subterfuge to continuing hiding a clandestine program.
“The United States and the IAEA are tying ourselves in knots negotiating over the information Iran has made public about its nuclear program, but that’s not where the real program even is,” Lopez stressed. “We are allowing ourselves to be sidetracked in negotiations with Iran talking about sites that were revealed 13 years ago, when the real weapons program remains hidden away deep underground or in the mountains of Iran.”
WND reported in February NCRI’s disclosure of a secret nuclear Iranian uranium enrichment known as Lavizan-3, buried deep underground in the northeastern suburbs of Tehran.
In 2002, the NCRI revealed Iran’s top-secret uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, some 100 miles north of Isfahan, and a second top secret Iranian nuclear plant at Arak, approximately 150 miles south of Tehran, designed to produce heavy water for the production of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
The NCRI disclosures have typically been developed by the Mujahedin-e Klaq, MEK, the group’s political arm in Iran founded to oppose Khomeini’s radical Islamic revolution.
Russia’s decision was announced Monday as the White House deployed Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and an unnamed representative from the U.S. intelligence community in an attempt to form a veto-proof majority to block legislation that would require congressional approval of President Obama’s “final status” agreement with Iran. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on tomorrow.
The interim agreement is to be completed by the end of June