Dec 12, 2022 - World

Scoop: Iran plans to limit range of missiles sent to Russia, Israeli officials say

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Tehran on July 19. Photo: Sergei Savostyanov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Tehran on July 19. Photo: Sergei Savostyanov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Fearing international backlash, Iran wants to limit the range of the missiles it plans to provide Russia for the war in Ukraine, four senior Israeli officials told Axios, citing intelligence reports.

Why it matters: Iranian ballistic missile deliveries to Russia could violate a UN Security Council resolution and trigger a "snapback" mechanism, which would reimpose UN sanctions on Iran.

  • Such a situation would be problematic for Iran, but even more so for Russia, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
  • Under UN Security Council resolution 2231, which passed in 2015 as part of the nuclear deal, countries are not allowed to transfer or receive Iran ballistic missiles and drones that have a range of more than 300 kilometers and a payload of more than 500 kilograms until October 2023.

Driving the news: Russia’s deputy defense minister, Alexander Fomin, visited Tehran with a military delegation on Dec. 3.

  • He met with Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, and attended the fourth meeting of the Joint Military Cooperation Commission, which was formed late last year to boost defense cooperation between Russia and Iran, according to Iranian press reports.
  • Israel is concerned Russia will provide Iran with engines for its long-range missiles, which would be in violation of the UN Security Council resolution, the Israeli officials said. It's also worried Moscow will allow Tehran greater freedom of operation in Syria to attack Israel and U.S. forces in the region.

The big picture: Iran initially denied providing Russia with drones, but acknowledged last month it did deliver the weapons but claimed it happened before the war started.

Behind the scenes: The four Israeli officials said international pressure has not fully deterred Tehran from planning to send the missiles to Russia and it intends to go ahead with the deliveries soon.

  • But, in an effort to mitigate the international fallout and not violate the Security Council resolution, Iran plans to give Russia only missiles with a range of less than 300 kilometers and modify other missiles so they stay within the parameters of the resolution, the Israeli officials said.
  • This includes a Fateh-110 missile system, which has a range of 300 kilometers, but the Iranians plan to modify it so that it doesn't violate the resolution, according to the Israeli officials.
  • The officials added that the Iranians originally considered also providing Russia with the Zolfaghar missile, which has a range of 700 kilometers, but they are no longer weighing whether to send this system.
  • The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a spokesperson for Iran's UN representative did not respond to requests for comment.

Between the lines: In recent weeks, Israel has provided dozens of Western countries a dossier with intelligence about Iranian arms transfers to Russia.

  • Israeli officials said they hope to use the current focus on Iranian assistance to the Russian war effort as a means for increasing international pressure on Tehran.

What they're saying: The White House declined to comment on the Israeli assessment, but National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters on Friday that the Biden administration is still concerned about the possibility that Iran will provide Russia with ballistic missiles.

  • Kirby said Russia is offering Iran unprecedented military and technical support while Tehran has become Moscow's top military backer. "That is transforming their relationship into a full-fledged defense partnership," he added.
  • The Biden administration has shared information about Russia’s military cooperation with Iran with U.S. partners in the Middle East and around the world, Kirby said.
  • Kirby added the U.S. is concerned that Russia intends to provide Iran with advanced military gear such as helicopters, air defense systems and Su-35 advanced fighter jets. He claimed Iranian pilots have been training in Russia to learn how to fly the jets since last spring.

State of play: EU foreign ministers met Monday and condemned Iran's military support for Russia during the war.

  • In a statement after the meeting, the EU stressed that "any transfer of certain combat drones and missiles to or from Iran without prior permission by the UN Security Council are in violation" of resolution 2231.
  • "The European Union strongly cautions Iran against any new deliveries of weapons to Russia, in particular any steps towards possible transfers of short-range ballistic missiles to Russia, which would constitute a serious escalation," the statement added.
  • "The European Union will continue to respond to all actions supporting the Russian aggression against Ukraine and hold Iran accountable including through additional restrictive measures."

What to watch: The UN Security Council will convene on Dec. 19 to discuss the implementation of resolution 2231.

  • The U.S., U.K. and France already claim Iranian drone transfers to Russia violate the resolution, while Russia and Iran claim it does not.
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