The Wall Street Journal reports: The Kremlin lifted its self-imposed ban on the delivery of a powerful missile air-defense system to Iran on Monday, stoking sharp criticism from the White House and Israel and casting fresh doubt on the international effort to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
U.S. lawmakers seized on Moscow’s announcement Monday to warn Russia was among a host of foreign countries using the prospect of a nuclear deal to begin seeking out lucrative business deals that could bolster Iran’s military and economy.
Any delivery of an air-defense system would complicate airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or the U.S. should the diplomatic track fail.
Iran thinks that Russia will deliver the missile system this year, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the Interfax news agency in Moscow on Tuesday.
The U.S. Senate is set to vote this week on legislation that would provide Congress with the power to approve, amend or kill any agreement that seeks to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.
Supporters of the bill, Republican and Democrat, said Russia’s lifting of its ban on the S-300 surface-to-air missile system could be just the beginning of countries testing the sanctions regime and a United Nations arms embargo on Iran.
“Before a final nuclear deal is even reached, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has started to demolish international sanctions and ignore the U.N. arms embargo,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), who sponsored legislation that seeks to impose new sanctions on Iran if a final deal isn’t reached by June 30.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the defensive systems didn’t come under the U.N. arms embargo, and that Russia implemented the S-300 ban voluntarily. “This was done in the spirit of good will to stimulate progress in the negotiations,” he said, adding that it was no longer necessary.
The State Department also said that the embargo imposed on Iran in 2010 didn’t prevent the delivery of S-300s. But the White House warned that the missile system, while defensive, could enhance Iran’s ability to challenge key U.S. allies in the Middle East, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.
It said that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue with Mr. Lavrov on Monday.
Still, the Obama administration was measured in its criticism, noting that it didn’t believe the proposed missile sale would jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. [Continue reading…]
Some analysts may interpret Putin’s move as an effort to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran, but one can argue that on the contrary, the planned delivery of S-300 missiles may make the conclusion of the deal a fait accompli.
With an elastic clock, Benjamin Netanyahu has long favored a breathless time is running out narrative when it comes to closing the door on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
If no deal is signed and within a few months Iran’s newly-reinforced defense systems make its nuclear sites extremely difficult to attack, 2015 is probably the last year that Israel could launch or instigate air strikes on Iran. It has never been plausible that it could conduct such attacks on its own, but the timing for it to enlist the support of others has probably never been worse.
The U.S. and Iran are effectively on the same side in a war against ISIS. American forces currently in Iraq would definitely become very vulnerable if the U.S. soon started bombing Iran.
Moreover, as Yemen becomes a quagmire for Saudi Arabia, an attack on Iran would likely become the tipping point for the current matrix of regional conflicts to start hopelessly spinning out of control.
Putin’ intention in approving the delivery of S-300 missiles at this juncture might simply be to push Russia first out of the gate in the race to cash in on the rewards from the inevitable ending the economic embargo on Iran.
Those who currently argue that the framework agreement is not good enough are rapidly being confronted with the reality that either the deal gets struck by the end of June or within a fairly short period Iran will see dwindling incentives for making any deal. Time is on Iran’s side.