Iran’s Arms Deal with Russia May Unnerve US, Israel
Tehran has turned to Russia to meet its military needs, but the Islamic republic’s new deal with the world’s second-biggest arms supplier is bound to provoke anxiety in the US and Israel.
Russia and Iran this week signed a military co-operation agreement under which Moscow could provide Tehran with arms sales worth up to $300 million a year.
The deal "is not a secret one; it complies with all norms and standards of international law and is almost identical in content to similar documents that Russia has signed with many countries," according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was quoted by the BBC Online on Tuesday.
In fact, the new agreement could be just the tip of the iceberg. Roslan Pukhov, director of a Russian non-governmental technical and strategic research center, said in August that Russia would probably sell arms worth $1.5 billion dollars to Iran in the next five years, according to sources cited by the official Iranian news agency (IRNA).
When Iranian President Mohammad Khatami visited Moscow in March, Russia defied the US and signed agreements to strengthen military and nuclear cooperation, according to AFP. Russian President Vladimir Putin was put in the position of defending a controversial decision to scrap an agreement with the US barring arms sales to Iran, saying Tehran had a right to defend itself.
All told, Russia signed $7.7 billion worth of weapons deals in 2000, which means it trails only the United States in arming the world, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly. It has lately revived its role as an arms supplier in the Mideast, with deals including a $300 million pact to deliver 15 Mig-29 fighters to Yemen, according to AFP.
But the US is bound to be nervous about the Iran deal in particular, since it has long labeled Iran’s Shiite Islamist government a major sponsor of international terrorism.
Lately, the White House has had fewer reasons to kick up a fuss, since both Tehran and Moscow support Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, which the US is counting on to help overthrow the Taliban regime. Not coincidentally, the Iranian and Russian foreign ministers discussed counter-terrorism activities in the same set of meetings in which they inked the arms deal.
In the past, however, the US has gone to great lengths to block Iranian attempts to acquire hi-tech weaponry, even out-bidding Tehran for a fleet of Moldovan MiG-29 fighters in 1998.
The US refused to disclose the price of the fighters, according to a report by Airman Magazine, after the Pentagon “pounced on the planes after learning Iran had inspected the jets and expressed an interest in adding them to their inventory.”
"It was on their shopping list. And we are very happy to have them in our hands rather than the Iranians'," said then secretary of defense William S. Cohen, according to the magazine.
Cohen said the aircraft were capable of carrying nuclear weapons, a charge the Russian defense minister at the time denied, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Regardless of the MiGs’ capabilities, containing a possible nuclear threat from Iran seems to have been high on the US priority list – just as it appears to be today. According to AFP, Russia has been heavily criticized by the US for building the Busher nuclear reactor in Iran, which was commissioned in January 1994 and is still under construction.
Another party which has voiced deep concern over Iran’s alleged goal of developing nuclear weapons is close US ally Israel, which is currently the only Mideast state with a nuclear arsenal. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last month used his visit to Moscow to press the Russians to end transfers of military and high technology to Iran.
Iran, however, has denied having any intention of developing weapons of mass destruction.
Late last month, a top Iranian defense official reiterated that his country respected its commitment to international treaties on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.
Deputy Defense Minister Rear Admiral Mohammad Shafiea Roudsari told IRNA that the activities of Iran's defense industry were “merely directed to promote military capability in areas that lead to maximum deterrence.” He also voiced support for the idea that promoting the deterrence capability of a defense system must become a principle for countries around the world.
Roudsari went on to call the concern of Western countries about Iranian cooperation with Iran “unnecessary,” saying such a concern resulted from the strategic position of the two countries.
But even putting aside the nuclear question, US analysts are no doubt scrambling to figure out how this latest arms deal between Iran and Russian will affect the military landscape of the Middle East – and the world -- Albawaba.com
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