Fri, 12 Dec 2008 19:33:56 GMT
US officials believe Russia is selling Iran the SA-20 strategic-range air defense system
US government officials say Moscow is selling Tehran the sophisticated SA-20 strategic-range air defense system through Belarus.
In a recent article published by the Aviation Week, US officials speaking on conditions of anonymity claimed that Moscow is using Belarus as a route for selling the highly advanced air defense systems to Iran so that it can deny "direct involvement" in the affairs.
"The Iranians are on contract for the SA-20," one of the US officials was quoted as saying. "We've got a huge set of challenges in the future that we've never had [before]. We've been lulled into a false sense of security because our operations over the last 20 years involved complete air dominance and we've been free to operate in all domains."
The unnamed official added that the deployment of the SA-20 around Iranian nuclear facilities would be a direct threat to Israel's fleet of advanced, but non-stealthy, F-15Is and F-16Is.
He, however, said that Israel still has time for a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic as it would take Iranian armed forces more than 24 months to become proficient in the operation of SA-20s.
Moscow delivered some 29 Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense missile systems under a $700 million contract clinched in late 2005 and has so far trained Iranian Tor-M1 specialists, including radar operators and crew commanders.
Western countries have criticized Russia's sales of defensive military equipment to Iran, saying that it has sabotaged efforts to curb Iran's uranium enrichment.
Russian officials, however, say the contract is completely in line with international law as it involves "defensive hardware, which cannot be used for offensive purposes".
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