The White House has been crowing that Russia’s decision last week not to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran represents a big triumph of its attempt to “reset” relationships with Moscow. The reality is somewhat more complicated — and less to our liking.
The fact is that Russia has flirted with selling the S-300 to Iran for years without ever actually going through with the deal, thus suggesting that the Russians were not truly planning to transfer the technology after all — they were simply hoping to get a good payoff from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries alarmed by rising Iranian power. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Russians have gotten in return (such deals tend to be secret), but at a very minimum they managed to convince the Obama administration to scrap plans to put missile interceptors into Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that alarmed those stalwart allies. How much more can we expect from the Russians? Not that much, as indicated by this L.A. Times article:
Even as the White House praised Russia for declining to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, Russian diplomats were quietly recruiting other countries this week to undercut tougher penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic.
Russia supported weak United Nations sanctions approved in June to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But it has strongly objected to tougher sanctions added individually by the United States, the European Union and four other countries. It fears those sanctions may end up hurting Russian companies that do business in Iran.
In other words, the Russians are up to their old tricks — paying lip service to stopping the Iranian nuclear program while sabotaging efforts to really get tough with Tehran. Beijing is pursuing a similar policy. Their intransigence means that the odds of really cracking down on Iran with international sanctions — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy — are minimal. Other means, such as computer worms, can and should be used to sabotage and delay the Iranian nuclear program, but in the end the U.S. and Israel cannot avoid the toughest of choices: either act militarily or watch Iran go nuclear.