Russian weapons can help Iran strengthen its defense network against Israel

An increasingly close relationship with Russia helps Iran possess many weapons capable of dealing with Israel if it launches an air strike in response, according to US officials.

In March 2023, Russia’s Institute of Machine Design and Manufacturing (NPP) Start invited 17 Iranian officials to visit the production factory in Yekaterinburg city. This is a leading enterprise in the field of designing launchers and ground equipment for Russia’s most modern missile complexes, including the S-400 long-range air defense system.

Emails from Iranian officials leaked in February described the visit as “an opportunity to showcase the scientific and technical potential, as well as the products that Moscow can provide to Tehran”.

It is unclear whether this activity will lead to any arms sales contract between the two sides. However, US intelligence officials say this is part of an effort to strengthen strategic cooperation between Moscow and Tehran over the past two years, and is also a significant factor that Israel must take into account if it wants to retaliate militarily. aimed at Iran after Tehran’s UAV and missile attack last weekend.

A series of unnamed US, European and Middle Eastern intelligence officials warned that Russian military technology could significantly enhance Iran’s defense capabilities, helping the country deal with Israel’s most modern weapons such as F-35I stealth fighter and ballistic missiles.

Russia and Iran began military cooperation in 2001 but stopped in March 2016 after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution banning the export of conventional weapons and technology related to deployed systems. deploy nuclear weapons to Iran, as well as ban the Middle Eastern country from exporting weapons.

This began to change at the end of 2022 when Russia began deploying Geran suicide drones (UAVs) shaped like the Shahed-136/131 series developed by Iran to attack targets in Ukraine. Iran then admitted providing Shahed UAVs to Russia but said they were delivered before the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine.

The White House said in mid-last year that Russia and Iran had expanded their defense partnership “at an unprecedented level”. Moscow and Tehran seem to be conducting many cooperation projects, including opening a factory to produce long-range suicide UAVs in Russia, sharing anti-jamming technology, and real-time assessment of specialized weapons. Deputy Ukrainian forces are equipped with NATO-standard weapons.

“This is no longer a one-way trading relationship with the balance tilted in favor of Russia. Iran now benefits from this change, when the cooperation between the two sides is no longer about purchasing weapons, but about sharing technology, knowledge,” commented Hanna Notte, an expert at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in the US.

US intelligence officials say that Russia is also promoting deals that include providing Su-35S heavy fighters to modernize Iran’s air force, gradually replacing squadrons of older F-14A fighter jets. Moscow also appears to be committed to providing technical support for Tehran’s reconnaissance satellite and booster rocket program.

Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister Mehdi Farahi announced in November 2023 that the country had completed the agreement to purchase Su-35S fighters, Mi-28 attack helicopters and training aircraft produced by Russia. Tehran has received a series of Yak-130 aircraft specialized in training pilots for modern fighters, deploying them at the Shahid Babaei base in the central part of the country.

Iranian Yak-130 training aircraft in images published in September 2023. Photo: Tasnim

Iranian Yak-130 training aircraft in images published in September 2023. Photo: Tasnim

Iran has long sought to buy Russian air defense missile systems to protect nuclear facilities and military bases against potential air strikes from the US and Israel.

Russia in 2007 agreed to provide five S-300 long-range air defense systems worth $800 million to Iran, but postponed this plan in 2010 to meet United Nations Security Council resolutions. By 2016, Moscow transferred 4 S-300PMU-2 Favorit systems with a total of 16 launchers to Tehran.

Tehran is likely looking to own the S-400 system with superior features compared to the S-300, especially the ability to detect and intercept stealth aircraft.

Russia once deployed S-400 missiles to protect bases stationed in Syria. Many Western experts warn that these batteries are still considered a “potential deadly threat” to US and Israeli aircraft operating in Syrian airspace.

“If handed over, Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and anti-stealth radars could turn Iranian airspace into a much more dangerous area than before. If Israel decides to respond with military measures, The fighting will take place in Iranian airspace, where Tehran holds the advantage of fighting at home,” Can Kasapoglu, a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute in the US, warned.

Even if no S-400 missile sales contract has been made, Iran can still benefit from Russia’s technology-sharing activities and quietly strengthen its military capabilities without alarming the West. “We may not have seen everything that’s going on,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in the US.