By: Meir Javedanfar
This morning I was interviewed by BBC Persian about the recent Israeli response to reports that Russia may be about to sell advanced S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. The interviewer, asked a very valid question: “These weapons are for defensive purposes only. They can not be used to attack Israel. So why is Jerusalem against their sale?”.
This is a valid point and a very fair question to ask. Iranians have every right to know why a foreign government opposes the sale of a weapons system, which is to be used for the defense of their country.
One of Israel’s concerns is that the system would make it much more dangerous for Jerusalem to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, if it decides to. Although the prospect of a military strike is the last and worst option, its still an important tool in the carrots and sticks package which is being offered to Iran. What must be noted however, that this is a long term problem.
The more immediate problem presented by the sale of the S-300 is that it could boost the confidence of Ayatollah Khamenei to the point that he will not take negotiations with the EU, and more importantly with the US seriously. For Israel, the best outcome is if Obama solves the nuclear crisis through negotiations. But if Ayatollah Khamenei knows that there is little which Obama and Israel can do economically, and now militarily thanks to the missiles, then he will be less inclined to take up Obama’s offer for talks, and to reciprocate American gestures. And this would make pre and post nuclear Iran, a much more difficult country to deal with, not just for Israel, but for the Western world.
In Iran, we used to see Russia as a bigger enemy than the US, because over the centuries, Moscow has been responsible for so many land grabs which have cut the size of Iranian territory by thousands of kilometres. Today, some Iranians can be forgiven for thinking that Russia wants to sell these missiles to Ayatollah Khamenei’s government, precisely because it does not want US – Iran talks to succeed. Because if they do, it could come at a cost to Russia’s influence over Iran. An influence, which many Iranians find unfair, and harmful.