Kenneth Waltz was the founder of the Neorealism Theory of International Politics, which holds that when it comes to nuclear proliferation, the more the better. The more countries that have nuclear weapons the more peaceful our planet is likely to be. And so, while the G5+1 were peacefully ‘Waltzing’ away in Geneva, behind the scenes a war dance was going on regarding the delivery of Russian S-300 ground to air missiles to Iran.
Game Theory as it applies to the Israel-Iran conflict is relatively simple. The premise assumes that if Iran gets the bomb it’s an end game scenario that Israel cannot permit, and therefore the question is not whether, but when will Israel preempt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, in May of 2013 that delivery of the S-300 (which would greatly undermine Israeli Air Force superiority) to Syria, “is likely to draw us into a response, and could send the region deteriorating into war.”
The S-300 is referred to as a game changer. It is a mobile land-based system designed to track multiple aircraft simultaneously from a long distance, and to shoot down enemy planes within a radius of 150 km (93 miles). The Russians have been playing the S-300 missile as pawns in their global chess game, in particular against the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This game has been ongoing (in one form or another) since President Ronald Reagan first proposed the U.S. anti-missile system known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the “Star Wars” program, back in 1983.
The $800,000,000 Russian-Iran deal for the delivery of the S-300 system was concluded in 2007. In May, 2010, Western intelligence services reported that Iranian Revolutionary Guards S-300 crews were training at Russian missile bases.
When Israeli President Shimon Peres raised the issue during talks with then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, he was told sharply that no other government could tell Russia to whom it may give military training. By 2010, Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment led the UN to pass resolution 1929, imposing sanctions against Iran and banning the sale of missiles to Iran.
As a result, early in September of 2010, President Medvedev signed a resolution banning the delivery of S-300 missile systems.
In reality, Israel’s agreement to sell Russia surveillance drones that would narrow Russia’s technological military gap with Georgia in return for killing the S-300 deal with Iran and Syria may have had a lot to do with Russia scrapping the sale. As a result of the cancellation, Iran brought a lawsuit (that’s still pending) against Russia in a Swiss court, to the tune of $4 billion.
On July 5, 2013, just two months after the Netanyahu – Putin meeting in which the former warned about a possible war, a Syrian military arms depot in Latakia containing Russian Yakhont P-800 surface to sea missiles was attacked and destroyed.
The Yakhont missile, like the S-300, is also considered by Israel to be a game changer. The attack was initially reported as having been carried out by Israeli war planes in an air to ground attack (against which the S-300 would have been a credible deterrent), but it was later reported that the attack that destroyed some 50 Yakhont missiles was actually carried out from Israeli Dolphin-class submarines.
The attack delivered a triple message: Israel will not tolerate game changers (a lesson Israel learned and paid dearly for in the 1973 Yom Kippur War). The second message was to Iran and Russia, saying that ground-to-air S-300 will not prevent an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and Israel can carry out such an attack in multiple ways. The third message was directed at Washington and Moscow: missile pawn-moves made on the European chess board have no relevance to the backgammon platform of the Middle East.
While the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia has led to the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons, and to the Geneva accords, Russia has been playing the S-300 card behind the scenes and to its own advantage. It may have actually been the trump card that convinced Iran to agree to an accord with the West.
On September 5, Putin reached a decision to end the ban on the sale of S-300 missiles to Iran, on condition that Teheran drop the $4 billion lawsuit against Rosoboronexport, the state intermediary that oversees Russian defense imports and exports.
The Kommersant (a prestigious Russian daily newspaper), reported the news several days later. It appears that Putin’s decision was part of a Russian effort to prevent U.S. military intervention in Syria and an enticement for the ayatollahs of Iran. By September 26, the world was cheering the peaceful resolution of the Syrian problem, and just two months later, on November 24, it was elated again with the conclusion of Geneva accord.
Not three weeks later, on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, during the course of a lecture to students at the Imam Sadegh University in Tehran entitled “Islamic Revolution against Global Arrogance,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief, Maj. General, Mohammad Ali Jafari, is reported to have made the following statement: “We are still increasing the range of our missiles, but currently the Supreme Leader has commanded that we limit the range of our missiles to 2,000 km (1,240 miles).”
It was a strange, oxymoronic response to a student’s question about Iran’s missile development. Yes, the Iranians were working on increasing the range of their missiles, but no, they were limiting them to a range that can only reach Israel (and Saudi Arabia). During the Geneva accords discussions, the G5+1 expressed concerns over Iran’s and North Korea’s cooperation in the development of the Shehab-6 missile, which has a range of 3,000-5,600 km (1,850-3480), long enough to reach most of Europe.
They made it clear that they would like to extend the six-month nuclear freeze agreed upon in Geneva to include a freeze on Iran’s development of long range ballistic missiles. No objections were raised, however, to Iran retaining the shorter range Shehab missiles capable of striking Israel.
Some of the sanctions have been lifted, the six months count is yet to begin, and the game changing S-300 shipment is almost en route. As the saying goes, “The dogs are barking, but the caravan moves on.”