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|Edwin Black||August 11th 2008|
Israeli defense officials declared the Jewish State would do "everything possible" to prevent Russia’s potent S-300 anti-aircraft batteries from reaching Iran. The remarks were made to the Jerusalem Post and reported by its veteran military affairs correspondent, Yaacov Katz.
The advanced S-300 mobile weapons system can reportedly track as many as 100 airborne targets simultaneously—drones, airplanes, and missiles—and can engage a dozen at once as far as 200 kilometers away. The system can even track missiles in outer space, that is, at 90,000 feet. Many missiles briefly enter the exosphere before raining down on their targets. As such, the S-300 can defeat virtually every aerial assault asset in Israel’s arsenal as it edges nearer to a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s high speed nuclear program.
But now, Israel has pledged to develop “black box technology” to neutralize S-300 electronics if the system becomes operational in Iran. If Israel does develop electronic countermeasures, those could be based upon aerial exercises held late last May and in early June. At that time, Israel conducted a mock attack using drones and warplanes over Crete. Greece possesses a similar S-300 system. The maneuvers were held jointly with the Hellenic Air Force. The Cutting Edge News was the first to report the pivotal role of the S-300 in the highly publicized Israel-Greek military exercise.
"Russia will have to think real hard before delivering this system to Iran, which is possibly on the brink of conflict with either Israel or the US, since if the system is delivered,” the defense official told the Jerusalem Post, “an EW [electronic warfare] system will likely be developed to neutralize it; and if that happens, it would be catastrophic not only for Iran but also for Russia."
If Israel moves ahead with its countermeasure program, it would indeed undermine both the backbone of Russian national air defense and its sale to other oil-rich countries willing to pay millions for the system. "No country will want to buy the system if it is proven to be ineffective," the defense official told the Jerusalem Post.
Numerous countries are now lined up to purchase the powerful S-300 system, this reporter has learned. In April, 2008, new agreements were reached on Russian-made weapons deliveries to Libya. Oil-rich Libya agreed to purchase the S-300 along with its TOR-M1 missiles as part of a package that also includes 30 MiG-29SMT and Su-30MK fighters, six Yak-130 combat trainers, several dozens Mi-17, Mi-35 and Ka-52 helicopters, 50 T-90S tanks and an advanced submarine. In exchange for the weapons deal, Libya asked Russia to write off old debt, totaling $4.6 billion. Military analysts say, the weapons cost will cover half of the waived debt. Russia could recoup the balance from Libyan cooperation in the oil sector; and as a bonus, gain the release of one its citizens held as a spy in a Libyan prison. The alleged spy is Alexander Tsygankov, a LUK Oil Overseas employee, who was released as part of the deal, reportedly on orders of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Saudi Arabia is also eying the S-300, as part of a mixed defense system which now includes U.S.-made Patriot missiles. But Saudi Arabia is also insisting on Russia’s best system, the S-400. But there is only one S-400 installation, the one deployed near the town of Elektrostal to protect Moscow itself. Venezuela has already purchased the TOR-M1 missiles and now Putin has told fiery Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez he is prepared to sell the S-300 as well. TOR-M1 missiles are most powerful when deployed with the S-300 targeting system.
The question remains whether Iran really has taken delivery of the five complex multi-component S-300 batteries promised; and if it has, are they operational? The Iranian-Russian deal dates to 2005 and was linked to Russia’s construction of Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr. The Bushehr plant can produce a quarter ton of plutonium per year, which nuclear experts say is enough for at least 30 atomic bombs. In December 2007, bilateral discussions among Iranian and Russian military experts produced a breakthrough on the S-300. The talks in Tehran were led by Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, and Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, regarded as the father of Iran's missile program.
On December 26, Iranian Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najar announced that Moscow would supply TOR-M1 missiles in 2007 and several dozen S-300 systems to Tehran in 2008. Later that day, sources in the Russian military confirmed the information to the local Russian media. Shortly thereafter, Dmitriyev himself told attendees at a meeting of the Russian-Indian intergovernmental committee on military-technical cooperation that the deal was going forward since it was not prohibited by international agreements.
The announcements set off alarms in Western capitals. Despite protests, a shipment of 29 TOR-M1 missiles was made to Iran in 2007. But Moscow has waffled on whether it was honoring the pledge to delivery the S-300s.
Russian, Iranian, Israeli and American sources seem to be parsing whether the systems are actually “delivered.” Israeli officials have stated, “no one really knows yet if and when Iran will get the system." Others suggest the components have been delivered but not assembled, or “title” has not yet passed because the systems are being tested. But Israeli officials and informed observers suggest that if the S-300 is about to go hot in Iran, it will trigger a rapid, accelerated decision to move militarily.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told an interviewer for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, “we need to keep every option open. If they provoke us, or they attack us, our army is prepared to attack and to succeed uncompromisingly." Barack added, "It's up to us to find the best way to get the best result with minimum damage."
Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of IBM and the Holocaust, and the forthcoming book, The Plan--How to Save America the Day after the Oil Stops— or Perhaps the Day Before (Dialog Press, September 2008).