Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:06 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:06 | SYDNEY

Russia sells missiles to Iran; Israel scratches chin


Sam Roggeveen


28 December 2007 09:37

White House reaction to the news that Russia intends to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran has been pretty muted. Given the arms sales the US has made to the region this year, the Administration might have judged that it does not exactly occupy the moral high ground on this issue.

The S-300 is a Russian equivalent to the US Patriot system, capable of shooting down planes and missiles from long range. So it is designed purely for self-defence and has almost no offensive applications. Sure, Iran could use the missiles to protect its army if it decides to invade a neighbour, but they would need an awful lot of them to do the job. As it is, they are reportedly buying just five batteries, enough to protect vital assets like the nuclear facilities.

The Americans could probably get through such air defences with stealth and weight of numbers, but Israel doesn't have those assets. So as the Washington Post's William Arkin argues, that reduces the chances of an Israeli air strike in the long term. But it might also encourage Israel to act before the S-300s are operational.

UPDATE: Russian arms export authorities deny the S-300 story. But the Russian arms industry is not a model of transparency, so it's worth keeping an open mind about this one.