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Secret Israeli deal to stop Russian S-300 missile sale to Iran?

Why have there been two, secret high-level meetings between Russian and Israeli leaders? Russia may be getting Israel's help with Georgia in exchange for halting missile sales to Iran.

By Correspondent / September 21, 2009



MOSCOW – Are Russia and Israel cutting a strategic deal aimed at undermining their respective foes, Georgia and Iran?

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In a week that will see a crucial summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, and intense discussion about Iran's alleged drive to obtain nuclear weapons in advance of multi-power talks set for Oct. 1, few may be paying much attention to recent moves involving Russia.

But speculation is cranked high in Moscow, after President Dmitry Medvedev admitted in a weekend CNN interview that Mr. Netanyahu paid a secret visit to the Kremlin on Sept. 7. It followed off-the-record talks between the Russian president and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres at Mr. Medvedev's vacation home in Sochi in August.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu came to Moscow," Medvedev told CNN. "He did this under a closed regime, this was his decision. I don't understand what this was connected with, but sometimes our partners decide it this way," he added, offering no details.

Broader cooperation?
Some experts say the two sides have been edging toward a wider strategic compact for some time.

"One of the key goals of the Netanyahu government is to establish a strategic partnership with Russia," says Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the independent Institute for Middle East Studies in Moscow. "It's possible that such a relationship could become as important for Israel as its bond with the US."

Cooperation between Russia and Israel has grown in recent years, including recent Russian arms purchases from Israel, and many former Soviet Jewish emigrés have returned to Russia to take advantage of exploding job opportunities and the apparent easing of anti-Semitism in the country.

Russian missile sale would 'signal war'
No one knows for sure what was discussed in the high-level meetings between Israeli and Russian leaders, but experts say the only subject that would warrant such urgent top-level shuttle diplomacy is Russia's outstanding contract to provide ultramodern S-300 air-defense systems to Iran.

The latest version of the weapon, known as the "Favorit", can simultaneously engage 12 targets flying at any altitude from about 30 feet to 20 miles, and strike them at a range of up to 75 miles away.

Russia and Iran signed a contract for the weapons two years ago, but Russia has yet to deliver.

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