Procurement: An Offer You Can't Refuse


October 13,2008:  Russia recently announced that it would not, after all, be selling S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. Israel has, for over a year, been trying to prevent Russia from shipping S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. Just before the announcement, the Israeli prime minister visited Russia, to do a little personal diplomacy. There was little mention of what the Israelis proposed to offer the Russians. One item discussed in the press was a piece of Czarist era real estate that once belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church (which became part of the communist bureaucracy during the Soviet period.) Israel acquired the property decades ago, and plans to offer it to Russia as a friendly gesture.

Another piece of trade bait not mentioned was an earlier Israeli announcement that they have developed an electronic warfare device that can defeat the S-300 radar. If Iran gets the S-300s, so the story goes, Israel threatens to sell the electronic warfare technology to nations who might have to deal with S-300 systems, thus greatly reducing the effectiveness, and value, of current S-300s. It would also make it more difficult for Russia to make any future sales of the S-300.

This could be a bluff, but the Russians have to face the fact that the Israelis have a long track record of successfully defeating radars, and anti-aircraft missiles, especially those of Russian manufacture. On the other hand, Russia has an equally impressive record of having their systems either fail, or get smoked by Western countermeasures. Now playing this kind of game is usually done in private by military equipment salesmen. Rarely do you hear this stuff tossed about in public.

Of course, the Russians are going to think that, if the Israelis do have such a device, they are going to sell it to selected customers anyway. But the Israelis may have made an offer, behind the scenes, to withhold the device from the general market, if the Russians will halt S-300 shipments to Iran.

Then again, the Russians are not without talent in the electronic warfare department, but they apparently did not see this as an opportunity to test the S-300 radars and counter-countermeasures against a possible Israeli attack, while also calling the Israelis bluff. Instead, the S-300 sale to Iran is off again, despite the fact that Iranian troops have already attended S-300 operations and maintenance schools in Russia. The Iranians are seething over all this, and maybe they will be able to get S-300s from China (which is busy trying to clone the system).


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