The growing military Collaboration between Iran and Russia has raised alarm bells in the international community. The head of the Mossad, David Barnea, recently shed light on this issue at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT). Barnea expressed grave concerns over Iran’s deepening ties with Russia, Iran’s continuous use of “terrorist weapons,” and its increased inclination towards terrorist operations, emphasizing the potential risks associated with Iran’s burgeoning self-confidence. He stressed that a significant factor fueling Iran’s self-assurance has been its deepening ties with Russia.
Alarmingly, a mere ten days after Barnea’s address, Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defense Minister, arrived in Tehran, leading a prominent military delegation to further cement these ties. This alliance elevates the threat to Israel, especially with advancements in missile and satellite technologies. Such collaboration might provide Iran access to advanced payload systems and potentially contribute to their nuclear missile expertise.
Moreover, this burgeoning alliance compromises Israel’s security and poses heightened risks for Ukraine and the Middle East.
The head of the Israeli Security Service (Mossad). David Barnea spoke on September 10 at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) on the issue of Iran’s use of terrorist weapon, warning it will pay a heavy price for this policy. “We must understand that there are five reasons behind Iran’s excessive self-confidence and willingness to carry out terrorist attacks – even with greater intensity.”
At the top of the list, Barnea placed Russia: “The excessive self-confidence is because the (attack) drones they supplied Russia with, we know that they intended to sell both short-range and long-range missiles – a deal that was foiled. Our concern is that the Russians will eventually meet Iran’s demands and provide them with raw materials that might put Israel in danger”. The other four are Iran’s recent regional agreements, the brutal repression of the Hijab protest, oil sales to China, and the recent success in Iran’s “absurd Hostage Diplomacy policy that brings billions into the country’s coffers and leads to the release of Iranian terrorists.”
On September 19, Five Americans imprisoned in Iran landed in the U.S. after the Biden administration released 6 billion dollars in revenue from Iranian energy sales frozen under sanctions. The freeing of the Americans occurred amidst stumbling attempts by the Biden administration to revitalize nuclear discussions with Iran.
A mere ten days following Barnea’s address, Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defense Minister, landed in Tehran leading a prominent military delegation. They convened with top Iranian authorities to strengthen their mutual ties. This visit by Shoigu was in response to an official invite extended by Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, back in June.
“Keyhan” newspaper, the mouthpiece of Iran’s supreme leader, describes “Iran and Russia, as two close and strategic allies, have over the past years deepened their relations in various fields, including military and defense, despite being under heavy Western sanctions”. Moreover, it said that for the first Iran’s domestically-manufactured Ababil ballistic missile was displayed at the Russian Army 2023 defense exhibition (MCIS 2023) alongside a “range of other cutting-edge Iranian military equipment, including drones and electronic warfare ” and the tactical Sayyad air defense system.
It is worth mentioning that there are notable areas of military cooperation between Iran and Russia in the sphere of air defense systems. Russia delivered the S-300PMU2 air defense system to Iran after several delays, mainly due to international pressure and sanctions. The addition of the S-300PMU2 to Iran’s military arsenal has been significant for its air defense architecture.
In 2019, Iran expressed interest in procuring the S-400 air defense system, which is even more advanced and capable than the S-300. Russia decided to decline Iran’s request due to its broader geopolitical dynamics. The S-400 boasts more extended detection and engagement ranges, the ability to target stealth aircraft, and an improved capability to counter electronic warfare and jamming.
Kioumars Heydari, the commander of the Iranian army’s ground force, announced after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Oleg Leonidovich Salyukov, on the sidelines of the military exhibit in Moscow that new defense agreements were reached with Russia on boosting defense ties. Salyukov termed Iran “a vital country in the Middle East and a strategic partner of Russia.”
Shoigu’s visit is a significant opportunity for Iran and Russia to expand their military cooperation, especially in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine. For Iran, the visit extends beyond the potential to increase sales of attack drones to Russia. It also sets the stage for prospective deals related to various missile systems, given the anticipated removal of missile export constraints in October due to provisions in the nuclear deal (JCPOA).
The evolving dynamics of the Russo-Ukrainian War might have shifted Russia’s stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The sanctions and Western response to the war pushed Russia further away from the U.S. and its allies. As Russia moved closer to Iran, it became more tolerant of the limited discussions surrounding the revival of the JCPOA. Nevertheless, it’s important to highlight that Russia holds concerns over Iran possessing nuclear weapons and seeks to curb nuclear spread in its vicinity and the broader Middle East.
In this regard, Iran and Russia have signed (December 2022) an agreement to cooperate in the design and construction of sensing and telecommunication satellites. The agreement was signed by Dr. Hassan Salarieh of The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) and Yuri Borisov of The Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). The document outlines a comprehensive roadmap for bilateral cooperation, encompassing satellite design, infrastructure development, and joint training initiatives.
Iran’s Collaboration with Russia, which has an advanced space program and extensive experience in missile technology, could potentially enhance Iran’s capabilities in Satellite Launch Capabilities: Jointly designing and constructing satellites could benefit Iran’s satellite launch vehicle (SLV) program. A robust SLV program can eventually help develop the technical expertise required for long-range ballistic missile design. This includes mastering the stages of separation, improving accuracy and reliability, and enhancing payloadwarheads capacities. It could also benefit Iran’s Long-Range Ballistic Missiles program. Skills and technologies, like propulsion, guidance systems, and materials science, are essential for peaceful rockets and military missiles.
Potentially, Collaboration in space technology, particularly in sensing and telecommunication satellites, contains knowledge and techniques that can be applied to missile technology. Both the propulsion systems used in satellite launches and the technologies employed in long-range ballistic missiles, which may serve as a platform for nuclear warheads, share similarities, especially in rocket design, thrust vectoring, guidance, navigation, and control.
The Collaboration between Iran and Russia encompasses more than just military ties. Prompted by U.S. and E.U. sanctions on the Iranian banking system in recent years, both nations are actively working to lessen their reliance on the dollar and develop non-Western economic avenues. This partnership has also seen a surge on economic fronts, facilitated by both one-on-one and group channels. On August 30, marking a milestone, a Russian train with 36 containers made its way to Saudi Arabia using Iran’s transport corridor as part of the North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, Iran is forging stronger economic connections with Russia along the Caspian Sea coast.
On July 4, Tehran was inducted as the ninth member of The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took part in an SCO summit conducted virtually and hosted by India. This marked a progression from Iran’s observer role with the organization since 2005. The SCO roster, besides India, includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan.
Moreover, Iran (with Russian support), Saudi Arabia, and Argentina have received formal invitations to become members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) international group, with their participation set to commence at the start of the upcoming year.
The apprehensions of the Head of Mossad regarding Iran’s bolstered regional standing—particularly its strengthened ties with Russia and its rising assertiveness—are valid. Moscow appears less restrained than before regarding deepening its security and economic engagements with Iran. In earlier times, Russia was tougher on specific issues with Iran.
However, predicting Putin’s moves is a complex task. It seems Russia still has overarching strategic concerns on the regional and global fronts, distinct from Iran’s interests. One of these concerns includes preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed nation.
Russia’s attention is primarily on the conflict in Ukraine and the international sanctions levied against it. Acquiring drones from Iran and leveraging Iran to mitigate sanctions is aiding Russia’s efforts. Meanwhile, Iran aims to bolster its economy and solidify its regional and global stature. Part of this strategy involves integrating into global economic alliances as a counterweight to the West and selling arms, including drones. By October, this could potentially extend to the sale of short and medium-range missiles.
Iran aims to maximize the benefits of its deepening relationship with Russia in defense and economic sectors. The conclusion of the conflict in Ukraine, which seems distant now, could redefine the dynamics between the two nations. While their alliance may seem strategic, it’s fueled by differing motives and could have unintended consequences. Should Iran begin to supply ballistic missiles to Russia, it could prolong the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Furthermore, if these missiles find their way to other players in the Middle East, it could jeopardize the region’s stability.
The Mossad chief’s statement emphasizes that, for Iran, employing terrorism and propagating its revolutionary ideology remain central to its foreign policy. Iran seems resolved to continue leveraging these strategies, adjusting their application in line with its evolving objectives. With the ongoing protests portraying Israel in a seemingly vulnerable light, Tehran’s focus appears to be sharpening on Israel. This is primarily channeled through its regional proxies, as targeting Israel—and, to an extent, traditional adversaries like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations—is deeply embedded in its ideological doctrine.
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