Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the sale of S-300 missile systems to Iran would only strengthen its aggressive behavior and undermine the Middle East.
The two leaders spoke by telephone on Tuesday, just one day after Russia ended its voluntary five-year ban on the delivery of the system, which would help strengthen Iran against a military attack.
Russia said that in light of the framework agreement between Iran and the six world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, the ban was no longer necessary. Iran could receive the S-300 by the end of the year.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Russia’s decision was proof that the Iranian nuclear deal was dangerous.
“The sale of advanced weapons to Iran is the result of the dangerous agreement that is emerging between Iran and the [six world] powers,” Netanyahu said. “After this arms deal [for the S-300], is there anyone who can seriously claim that the [framework] agreement with Iran will increase the security in the Middle East?” For over a month, Israel has warned that the framework agreement the parties reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, earlier this month would strengthen Iran militarily.
Israel is particularly concerned that sanctions against Iran will be lifted before results are achieved.
But the six world powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany – have not been moved by Israel’s arguments and are moving forward with talks to finalize the deal by June 30.
Negotiations will resume on April 21 at the deputy level, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday, in what will be the first meeting since a major breakthrough two weeks ago.
But already Russia is rolling back some of its sanctions and has allowed an exchange of goods for crude oil.
Ya’alon said that Moscow’s S-300 deal with Iran was “something we have been warning about even before the details [of the agreement] were concluded. It was clear, even then, that sanctions will be lifted, and that of course this will influence and strengthen the Iranian economy.”
Putin told Netanyahu that S-300 missiles had only defensive capabilities and did not pose a threat to Israel, according to the Kremlin.
But the US, which, along with Israel, has long opposed Russia’s sale of the S-300 to Iran, said it was concerned by Russia’s move, even if the move did not impact the Obama administration’s support for the framework agreement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged countries that had imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program to maintain a unified approach to removing them.
“I urge people to lift those sanctions together, as far as possible,” Merkel said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, meanwhile, said it was too early for Russia to reward Iran.
Russia had planned to deliver S-300 missile systems to Iran in 2010, but in the end imposed a ban on such sales, under pressure from the West and to support the P5+1’s efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran has taken Russia to arbitration over the blocked sale of the S-300 and filed a $4 billion lawsuit against its state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.
“Removing this snag would further help development of our bilateral ties,” said Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Shamkhani as saying in Moscow that he expected S-300 deliveries to Iran before the end of the year and that Tehran would drop a legal suit against Russia once they were completed.
The deal will be discussed further when Iran’s defense minister, Hossein Dehghan, visits Moscow in the coming days, said Vladimir Sazhin, an Iran expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
He added that Tehran used to be Moscow’s third-largest defense and military trade partner.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended its decision to reporters in Moscow as he explained that the UN Security Council sanctions on Iran did not ban such sales.
“We are convinced that at this stage, this kind of embargo, especially a separate Russian free-will embargo, is completely irrelevant,” Lavrov said.
Given the volatile nature of the region, the S-300 is vitally important to Iran, he added.
“Last week’s rapid and alarming developments in the military situation around Yemen particularly testify to this,” he said.
“As a result of freezing the contract, Russia lost large amounts of money. We do not see any obligation to continue this policy, considering the progress in the talks and the absolutely legitimate character of the forthcoming deal,” Lavrov said.
Ya’alon said that one of the problems with the nuclear deal was that it allowed Iran to continue to build up its conventional weapons systems.
Iran continues to arm elements around Israel, particularly Hezbollah, while supporting combat in Syria and the Houthi-Shi’ite takeover of Yemen, Ya’alon said.
“This issue was not discussed at all, and this is one of the biggest holes in the agreement. It is outside of the framework agreement, and this is certainly very disturbing. I hope that there will be time in the coming months to fix this,” said the defense minister.
Iran continues to activate terrorism against pro-Western Arab regimes, support elements in Iraq, work against Israel and transfer weapons to Syria, he added.
It has already sent tens of millions of dollars to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza to help them arm themselves after last summer’s conflict, due to their inability to smuggle rockets or other weapons into Gaza, the defense minister said.
“We continue to warn about the bad agreement that is developing with Iran, which does not include terrorism, missile components, or the military dimension of the Iranian nuclear project. Hence, we are against this bad agreement,” Ya’alon said.Reuters contributed to this report.