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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Israeli warplanes await S-300 sale to Iran

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 19:05:32 GMT | PressTV

Russia's transfer of its S-300 air-defense systems to Iran would be the trigger point for Israel to take Iran to war, says a US think-tank.

As Iran's quest to obtain the sophisticated Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system S-300 continues to spark controversy, a new "Presidential Task Force" report on Iran by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns about the consequences of Iran acquiring the weapon.

The report says the potential transfer of the S-300 systems to Iran "gives rise to the grave risk that Israel could feel compelled to act before the cost of doing so is too high."

The bi-partisan authors of the document, titled, "Preventing a Cascade of Instability," propose that the US "should promptly provide Israel with the capabilities -- modern aircraft -- to continue to threaten high-value Iranian targets" once Russia starts the S-300 delivery.

The "Presidential Task Force" report maintains that the US arms offer to Israel could be used as leverage in pressuring Russia against the sale of S-300 systems to Iran.

The "rebalance of the strategic equation" would come as a result of an assessment of the S-300 system by US and Israeli weapons experts which has described the weapon as an element that can effectively rule out a successful attack against Iran.

"If Tehran obtained the S-300, it would be a game-changer in military thinking for tackling Iran," says long-time Pentagon advisor Dan Goure.

The surface-to-air system tracks targets using a mobile radar station, immune to jamming.

Aside from the modern aircraft the US has been advised to provide for Israel, Israeli military experts have been on the move to enhance their offensive capabilities.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is reportedly developing a killer drone, known as Harop, which can be used against "anti-aircraft systems and mobile or concealed ballistic missile launchers".

Harop, which is deployed as a "fire and forget" weapon, is designed to travel over 1,000 kilometers to loiter over suspected locations to spot and attack targets as they are exposed right before activation.

William Schneider, one of the authors of the report and a former under secretary of state in the Reagan administration told a news conference on Wednesday that Iran has ready access to enough fissile material to produce up to 50 nuclear weapons should they decide to make such bombs.

"The ability to go from low enriched uranium to highly enriched uranium, especially if [the Iranians] expand the number of centrifuges, would be a relatively brief period of time, perhaps a year or so, before they'd be able to produce a nuclear weapon," Schneider said.

In order for Iran to build a nuclear weapon, it needs to reconfigure its existing centrifuge enrichment plant at Natanz to reprocess LEU into weapons-grade HEU, or build clandestine facilities without the knowledge of UN inspectors.

An UN nuclear watchdog official speaking on condition of anonymity responded later by saying that the nuclear watchdog's monitors and surveillance equipment at the Iranian facilities have not detected any reconfiguration activity on centrifuges, adding that there exists no evidence that Iran is building a clandestine facility to produce the highly enriched uranium needed for bomb fuel.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming for her part dismissed the possibility of any such move by Iran explaining that, "No nuclear material could have been removed from the facility without the agency's knowledge since the facility is subject to video surveillance and the nuclear material has been kept under seal."

The report by the US think-tank adds that any attempt by the US to hinder the sale of the S-300 systems to Iran should be done while making clear that "the US objective is to delay an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities while the international community continues its efforts to convince Iran to abandon its program."

Iran's Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar visited Moscow last month in what was widely believed to be in pursuit of the finalization of a deal on the advanced Russian system.

While there was no official confirmation about the controversial defense systems following the Iranian minister's return, Evgenia Voiko, an analyst from the Center for Current Politics -- an analytical agency close to the Kremlin -- told Press TV that Russia would not let the Iranian general return to his country empty-handed.

"The deals would be beneficial for Russia. Iran is one of Russia's largest military and technical partners. It would be imprudent to lose such a promising customer," Voiko added.

Kommersant had earlier reported that while an $800 million contract for five S-300 systems had already been signed between Iran and Russia, Moscow has yet to make a decision on whether to deliver them.

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