In his four-day trip to Tehran, Russian Air Force Chief Gen. Viktor Bondarev and his hosts, Brig. Gen. Hassan Shasafi and other senior Iranian military chiefs, laid the groundwork for a series of agreements to upgrade their military ties to a level unprecedented in their past relations. DEBKAfile’s military and Iranian sources report that Iran is deliberately accentuating those ties as a message to the Western powers that if they give the Islamic Republic a hard time over its nuclear program, it will go all the way to a full-dress defense pact with Russia.
Moscow has its own reasons for being keen to expand its military ties with Tehran:
1. Signing defense accords and arms transactions with Iran will give Russia its first serious military foothold in the Persian Gulf;
2. Moscow is not only seeking to compete with the US military presence in the Gulf but also displace America and China in the weapons markets of the Middle East.
3. Major Russian-Iranian arms deals will be a precedent for important weapons transactions brokered by Saudi Arabia with Egypt. Moscow sees the shape of a weapons-trading triangle that could be exploited in the future for Russia to serve in the role of mediator between Riyadh and Tehran.
These are long term strategic goals for the Kremlin.
Iran additionally keeps at the front of its mind the potential for an Israeli or American military strike on its nuclear program if the diplomatic track runs into the sand – especially since the Islamic regime has no intention of giving up what it considers its right to develop nuclear power and enrich uranium.
That is the truth behind the make-believe posture in some Western circles that Iran offered the Geneva conference last week a list of concessions on its nuclear program.
Tehran has put in special requests for massive Russian technological assistance for upgrading its missile industry by extending the range of their ballistic missiles and improving their precision. The Iranians also see a chance to renovate their aging air force and have applied for Russian fighters, interceptors, transports and refueling planes as well as training facilities for air force flight crews.
After Moscow refused to deliver them advanced S-300 anti-air missile systems, the Iranians set up programs for developing home-made products. They claim to have built their own S-200 interceptor missiles and are offering to shell out hefty sums for the purchase of new Russian technology to improve them.
The visiting Russian air force chief therefore had plenty to discuss with his Iranian hosts. Especially significant was his visit Monday, Oct. 21 to the Iranian anti-air command at Khatam Al-Anbiya and his conversation with its head, Brig. Gen. Farzad Esmaili.