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.
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There was speculation earlier this month that the Arctic Sea cargo ship, hijacked off Sweden's coast on July 28, was secretly delivering S-300 missiles to Iran. Russia's foreign minister publicly denied the media reports.Skip to next paragraph
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"The S-300 would give such good protection to the Iranian nuclear project that if these Russian missiles come to Iran, that will probably be the signal for war," says Mr. Satanovsky.
"Such missiles will be seen as being for one purpose only, to defend an Iranian nuclear bomb," he says.
Russia's credibility on the line
But Russia has a strong interest in following through with the Iranian deal, says Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin deputy of Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
"For our military-industrial complex, it's a matter of survival," Mr. Markov says. "This is not just a very lucrative contract, it also puts Russian credibility on the line. If we don't deliver on this deal, no anti-American regime will believe in us as a supplier and buy our weapons. Since pro-American regimes don't buy Russian weapons, that would be the end of Russia as an arms exporter."
A report this week in the Israeli daily Haaretz suggested that the main purpose of Netanyahu's secret visit to the Kremlin was an effort to persuade Russian leaders to hold off on providing the missiles to Iran, and it added that Israel has asked all its friends in the West to put pressure on Moscow to cancel the sale.
What Israel can offer in return
But what can Israel offer in return? Russian experts say Israel's close military cooperation with Georgia, the tiny pro-Western Caucasus state with which Russia fought a war last year, suggests a logical trade-off.
"Georgia was militarized with Israeli help, and this has been a cause of great dissatisfaction for us," says Markov.
Already, there is a precedent for Russia backing off on foreign arms sales in exchange for Israeli cooperation on Georgia.
One of the weapons Israel provided to Georgia, along with training for Georgian troops, was unmanned drones – an increasingly popular, hi-tech battlefield tool that Russia is far behind on developing.
But while the precedent for Israeli-Russian cooperation is clear, it is unknown what another such deal would include.
Medvedev revealed no change of heart on Iran sanctions
In his CNN interview, Medvedev offered few clues to suggest that Russia's position, which has been to resist tough sanctions against Iran, might be changing.
He scolded Iran, saying it must cooperate with the international community in its drive to acquire nuclear technology, but also suggested that Israel was overreacting to the threat of Russian S-300 missiles.
"Supplies of any weapons, especially defensive weapons, cannot increase tension; on the contrary, they should ease it," he said.
And he suggested Russia would oppose any Israeli military strike against Iran.
"This is the worst thing that can be imagined," Medvedev said. "What would happen after that? Humanitarian disaster, a vast number of refugees, Iran's wish to take revenge - and not only upon Israel, to be honest, but upon other countries as well.
"But my Israeli colleagues told me they were not planning to act in this way, and I trust them," Medvedev added.