Russia in talks with Iran over sale of anti-aircraft missiles, despite Israeli objections

Israel plans to send one of its most senior security officials to Moscow tomorrow to express concern over Russia’s decision to renew contacts with Iran for the sale of advanced anti-aircraft missiles, Haaretz has learned.

Israeli officials said the government will send the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Security Bureau Maj.-Gen. (res) Amos Gilad to try to dissuade the Kremlin from supplying Iran with S-300 missiles – which would significantly complicate any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

During his two-day visit in Moscow, Gilad will meet with the Russian chief of staff, the head of intelligence as well as senior defense officials and diplomats. In addition to talks on the S-300 sale, Gilad is expected to bring up the Iranian nuclear program and Syria’s supplying of Russian-made weapons to Hezbollah.

Earlier this year, Russia said it would not move forward with the transaction. In October, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Russia, where he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and with his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. The meeting was set up to try and persuade the Russians to drop two deals in the works – one to sell S-300 missiles to Iran and the other to sell them to Syria.

The Russian foreign ministry’s spokesman said Russia will not go ahead with the Iranian deal. “We have 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, unstable areas,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko.

The Russian official added that the Kremlin makes decisions on selling such systems based on “both preserving the balance of power in the given region, and taking into account the need to provide stability and security in the region.”

But in spite of these statements, Israeli officials say Russia and Iran renewed negotiations on the purchase of the missile system several weeks ago. The sources confirmed a report that appeared in the foreign press on the matter two weeks ago.

In a recent internal discussion on the matter, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave ministry officials instructions to put in a request for clarifications from the Russian administration’s highest levels.

The weapons sales are a very sensitive issue for Israeli diplomats, who view it as a form of leverage that Russia is trying to apply on Washington. Some in the Foreign Ministry believe Russia has decided to move forward with the deal in order to demonstrate a hard line ahead of Barack Obama’s entry into the White House as U.S. President.

The S-300 missile, called the SA-10 in the West, has a range of 150 kilometers and is capable of striking a plane at altitudes of up to 30,000 meters. The movable launchers are operational within minutes, and the system’s radar is able to simultaneously acquire and engage dozens of targets.