Intelligence file: Grounds for concern

Iran – even with the S-300 and the military deals that are expected to be showered upon it – will be no match for Israel in the coming years.

SA-22 Air Defense System (photo credit: VITALY V. KUZMIN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
SA-22 Air Defense System
This time it’s final. After nearly a decade of delays, suspensions, pressures and tough international battles, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the state-owned manufacturer Almaz-Anety confirmed on Wednesday that the sale of the ground-to-air S-300 missiles to Iran is a done deal.
What is still to be determined is the scope of the deal – whether three or four batteries will be sold.
There is here a great deal of irony. For nearly a decade Israeli prime ministers pounded on the Kremlin gates and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to sell the advanced batteries to Tehran.
Until recently it seemed that the Israeli lobbying policy, supported by a tailwind from US administrations, was paying off. Despite a signed contract and an advanced payment, Russia found excuses not to honor it and even announced that it wouldn’t deliver the systems.
But now that the missile deal is under way, the depth of the failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy is exposed.
This story has several layers. In his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu designed a policy that went “all out” on international fronts.
He embarked on a collision course with the US President Barack Obama. He tried to appease Putin.
Netanyahu acted like a gambler with no strategy, exit policy or fallback position.
But both ignored him. Netanyahu’s miscalculations pushed Israel into an undesirable position. It had little influence on the content of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. It also left Israel with no levers to influence Russia or modify its decision to go ahead with the missile deal.
It didn’t have to be this way. A more cautions and sensible approach by Netanyahu would not have prevented the nuclear deal but could have helped Israel to influence its outcome and ensure the drafting of tougher clauses regarding the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites.
This week, for example, we learned that in a secret annex to the nuclear deal, the world powers caved in. It was revealed that the world powers had agreed that Iranian experts – and not inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency – would inspect and sample the Parchin site where, according to US and Israeli intelligence, Iran had conducted unlawful experiments to test the nuclear chain reaction to simulate a nuclear explosion.
Had Netanyahu been less vociferous in his public opposition to the deal, he may have been able to reach a secret understanding with Putin about which arms to sell to Iran and which would not be delivered.
Now it’s too late. The sale of the S-300 batteries is a game-changer. The batteries belong to a family of missiles and radars that were first developed and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the mid ’70s and deployed by the Red Army in 1979. Since then, new generations and models have been upgraded and turned the system into one of the best of its kind.
True, what Russia agreed to deliver is not the state of the art in this line of batteries.
There are already more advanced versions operated only by the Russian army. But still, what Russia is selling is good enough and provides sufficient ground to be concerned.
The battery’s radar is capable of detecting and spotting hostile warplanes from a distance of hundreds of kilometers to lock in and send its accurate guided missiles.
Iran will deploy the batteries to defend its nuclear sites. Their presence will make it much more difficult for any air force – be it Israeli or American – to operate if one day in the future a decision will be made to attack Iran, if it violates the nuclear deal and “breaks out” to produce nuclear bombs.
Yet, despite the importance of the deal, the skies are not going to fall. In the cat and mouse game between an attacker and defender, the attacker almost always has the upper hand.
There is no doubt that the Israeli and American air forces will find the way, with clever technological and operational solutions, to circumvent the S-300 systems and operate to execute their mission, if ordered into action.
The Russian deal also has larger implications.
Just as we already witness long queues of international corporations courting Iran for lucrative deals in the civilian sectors, once sanctions are lifted – sometime next spring – so we can expect to see in the military field.
True, according to the nuclear deal, the sales of offensive weapons to Iran are banned for another five years, and sales of missiles for eight years. Nevertheless, we see already now the first steps taken to clinch military and security deals with Iran.
It is reported that China is thinking about selling Iran fighter planes, which incidentally and how ironically are equipped with Israeli-made avionics, including radars. These components were produced by Israel Aircraft Industries (now called Israel Aerospace Industries) 30 or so years ago for the Lavi project, the Israeli self-produced fighter plane. In the mid-’80s, under US pressure, Israel canceled the project and sold some of its technological innovations to the apartheid regime of South Africa and to China, which, based on the Israeli technology, built its own J-10 fighter plane.
Nevertheless, with the Iranian enhanced efforts to use the nuclear deal as a launching pad to improve and modernize its armed forces, the ayatollahs will still be lagging behind their rivals and enemies in the region.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have much better and more advanced military hardware, and are now negotiating with the US compensation packages. And money is not a problem for them.
The IDF is and will continue to be the strongest military force in the region. Iran – even with the S-300 and the military deals that are expected to be showered upon it – will be no match for Israel in the coming years.