Ministries spar over Russia UAV sale

During Gilad visit, Russian news agency claims country will sell S-300 air defense system to Iran.

UAV 248.88 (photo credit: IAI)
UAV 248.88
(photo credit: IAI)
The Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry disagree over whether to sell advanced Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to Russia, The Jerusalem Post has learned. On Wednesday, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, traveled to Moscow on the invitation of the Russian Defense Ministry to discuss its request to buy UAVs. The Russians decided to establish a UAV capability following this past summer's war with Georgia, which operated Israeli-made drones. In what is being interpreted in Israel as an attempt to pressure Jerusalem into approving the deal, while Gilad was in Moscow, a report appeared on a Russian news agency claiming that Russia was planning to go ahead with the sale of its most advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Defense officials said Russia was seeking to buy 100 UAVs, including some of Israel's most sophisticated drones manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems Ltd. The officials said Israel would also seek approval for the sale from the United States. "The Russians' purpose of Gilad's visit was to discuss the UAVs and to convince the Defense Ministry to approve the sale," one senior official said. "The Foreign Ministry supports the sale, since it believes it will improve Israeli-Russian relations. The Defense Ministry is hesitant, since it is concerned that the Russians may pass the technology on to other countries or may still sell advanced weaponry to our enemies after we sell them UAVs." The report on the RIA news agency quoted unnamed sources as saying Russia was planning to finalize a contract for the sale of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran, a move that would severely impair an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear facilities. The S-300 is one of the most advanced multi-target anti-aircraft missile systems in the world today and has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 kilometers and can hit targets at altitudes of 90,000 feet. Iran already has TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles from Russia. Israeli officials said it was likely that the report on the S-300 had been leaked purposely on Wednesday to pressure Israel to approve the UAV sale. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office could not confirm the RIA report Wednesday night, saying only that when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Russia in October, he had raised Israel's concerns about state-of-the art Russian arms sales to Iran. After that meeting, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Russia had "declared more than once at the very highest political level that we do not intend to supply those types of armaments to countries located in regions that are, to put it mildly, uneasy." Russian diplomats have said repeatedly that Moscow would not sell arms that would tilt the balance of power in the region.