Iran Arms Sales Top Olmert's Visit

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to urge President Dmitry Medvedev not to sell advanced anti-aircraft systems to Iran at Kremlin talks on Tuesday.

Olmert, who arrived Monday in one of his last trips after resigning last month in a corruption scandal, told a Cabinet meeting Sunday that he would press Medvedev over arms sales to "irresponsible elements."

Defense analysts said Olmert was clearly referring to the possible sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran. A sale could prompt an Israeli strike against Iran that would almost certainly include U.S. military support, they said.

Calling Russia a "strong global superpower, both militarily and economically," Olmert said Sunday that he and Medvedev would deal with issues "of special, immediate concern to us, such as the supply of weapons to irresponsible elements, the actions of which greatly disturb us, and the Iranian problem, in which Russia has special weight."

The Kremlin issued a vaguely worded statement Monday, saying Medvedev and Olmert would "exchange opinions" on threats, including terrorism and nonproliferation.

The Israeli concerns might have been stirred by remarks made by Anatoly Isaikin, director of state arms export agency Rosoboronexport, at an arms exhibition in South Africa on Sept. 17. Isaikin said Russia was negotiating with Iran on the possible delivery of advanced anti-aircraft systems.

His remarks might have been a veiled warning to Israel after the Jewish state sold weapons to Georgia and Israeli instructors trained Georgian commandos who later fought against Russian military in a five-day conflict in August, said Konstanin Makiyenko, a researcher with the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

But if Rosoboronexport is negotiating with Iran for S-300 systems — a sale discussed between Tehran and Moscow since 2004 — the cost of a possible Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would increase significantly, defense analysts said. Israel and the United States accuse Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapon, while Tehran maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful.

In 2004, Russia offered to sell Iran five batteries of S-300 PMU-1 missile systems to provide air defense for Tehran, the industrial center of Isfahan, the Persian Gulf naval base of Bender Abbas and the nuclear power station in Bushehr. The deal was expected to be closed in March 2006, but Moscow abruptly ended talks in January 2006 to demonstrate its discontent with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Still, in 2007, Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems — with less range and fighting capacity than S-300s — to Iran, causing an outcry from Washington and Tel Aviv.

Rosoboronexport's press service said Monday that it had no information about the possible delivery of S-300s to Iran, Itar-Tass reported.

The procurement of S-300s by Tehran might prompt Israel to set a time frame for a strike against Iran, which might range from three to six months after a deal is reached, said Vladimir Yevseyev, an analyst with the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

In 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

But the deployment of S-300s by Iran would strain the capacity of the Israeli military, and the United States would need to participate to carry out a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities effectively, said Yevseyev and Thedore Karasik, director of research and development at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

S-300s can track as many as 100 targets and engage up to 12 at a range of up to 120 kilometers. Russia has sold S-300s to China, Vietnam, Cyprus and Algeria.

Syria, which backed the radical Hezbollah group during the 2006 conflict with Israel in Lebanon, is also seeking S-300s and other advanced weapons from Moscow, and Olmert is expected to ask Medvedev not to sell arms to that country as well.

Olmert said Sunday that he was visiting Moscow on an invitation received from Medvedev two months ago.

Iran is not under an international arms embargo, so Moscow would not violate international laws by providing conventional arms. Russian officials traditionally maintain that Iran and Syria get only defensive weapons from Russia.

No newspaper reporters and only a limited number of television crews and reporters will cover the talks between Olmert and Medvedev on Tuesday, a Kremlin official said on customary condition of anonymity.

When Olmert met then-President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin two years ago, Kommersant reporter Andrei Kolesnikov overheard Putin telling Olmert that he was envious that then-Israeli President Moshe Katsav had allegedly raped 10 women. An embarrassed Kremlin later had to explain to the media that Putin had been joking.

Olmert did not come to Moscow empty-handed this week. The Israeli Cabinet decided Sunday to transfer ownership of Sergei Courtyard — a building constructed in Jerusalem by Russian diplomats and pilgrims in the 19th century — to the Russian government. The property is named after Grand Duke Sergei, a son of Tsar Alexander II.

Staff Writer Anna Smolchenko contributed to the report.