How rockets transformed the Middle East arms race and made Russia the big winner.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Nov. 13 2009 12:49 PM

Follow the Rockets

Why Russia is the big winner in the Middle East arms race.

(Continued from Page 1)

A look at the naughty bits of Russia's S-300 striptease over the past year is enough to give even the most ADD-riddled brain a bad case of déjà vu. In December 2008, the Iranians sent a delegation to Moscow and came back with an apparent agreement from the Russians to deliver the S-300s. "After [a] few years of talks with Russia ... now the S-300 system is being delivered to Iran," Email Kosari, deputy head of the Iranian Parliament's foreign affairs and national security committee, told IRNA, the official Iranian news agency. A Russian defense ministry official confirmed to the news agency Interfax that "[c]urrently the S-300s are being prepared for transfer to [Russia's state-run arms exporter] Rosoboronexport and then their shipment to the customer." The Russians waited a few weeks and then denied reports that the S-300 was en route to Iran anytime soon.

In February of 2009, Iran's then-defense minister, Mostafa Mohammed-Najjar, traveled to Moscow and obtained another public promise to deliver the S-300 system: Those reports were then scotched. In April, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mehdi Safari, visited Moscow and announced, "There are no problems with this [S-300] contract." Iranian media declared that the country had begun receiving elements of the even more advanced system, the SA-20 Gargoyle. The Russians then announced that no more S-300 components would be delivered to Iran.

Advertisement

In late October, the Russians reversed themselves again and announced that they would absolutely, positively deliver S-300 missiles to Iran. According to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia then outbid Iran by offering to purchase $2 billion of new Russian weapons, including a more advanced version of the S-300—the S-400.

The first lesson of the rocket poker game, then, is that the Iranians and the Syrians are suckers—until they get the bomb.

The second lesson is that every rocket the Russians sell—or don't sell—gives them leverage to sell more rockets.

The third lesson is that the Israelis have reasons to trust Russia, at the same time as they worry about Russia shipping S-300 missiles to Iran and about the Russians building the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr, as well as about the Russian scientist or scientists who has been helping the Iranians master the fine points of building a nuclear warhead.

The fourth lesson is that whoever runs Russia's foreign policy these days—let's call him Vladimir Putin—may not be the greatest guy on the planet, but he sure makes the people who run our country, Republicans and Democrats alike, seem like chumps. First, he invades tiny, democratic Georgia and humiliates its loud-mouthed president. Then he threatens to turn off the gas to Ukraine. Then he uses economic pressure to shut down the large U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan—a key link in the NATO supply chain to Afghanistan. When an idealistic, young U.S. president who bravely dreams of eliminating nuclear weapons from the planet accedes to Russian demands to scotch NATO's hard-won radar system in Eastern Europe, Putin pockets the bait—and then rubs his victory in the faces of the horrified Eastern Europeans by teaming up with the crazy president of Belarus and launching a "practice" invasion of Poland, complete with tactical nuclear weapons. Actions like these make Russia a powerful agent of destabilization that threatens U.S. power across Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, at the same time as it makes Russia the key to our fading hopes of resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran. By this time next year, the Middle East may be at war or at peace—depending on where Russia sends its rockets.

Think about it: The sight of Vladimir Putin accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the peace-loving Russian people and their former KGB masters may seem a bit much, but if Russia stops the Iranian bomb by withholding the S-300, then it would be hard to think of a more deserving candidate. If Russia sends the S-300 to Iran, on the other hand, the Iranians will build their bomb—and may use it. Either way, there should be a prize for the world leader who is able to accumulate the most influence at the cheapest price.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Head of Security Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would A Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 2:31 PM 3 Simpsons Showrunners Reflect on New Fans and the “Classic Era” Myth
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.