Israel Keeping Eye On Russian-Iranian Meeting

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel is keeping a wary eye on Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev's visit to Iran, the first by a Russian or Soviet defense minister to Teheran since the 1979 Islamic revolution there.

Sergeyev arrived in Teheran Tuesday for a three-day visit aimed at improving military cooperation and increasing arms sales, despite protests from Washington.

Washington has threatened Moscow with economic sanctions if it goes ahead with arms deals with Teheran. In November, Russia shocked the U.S. when it said it was abandoning a 1995 agreement by which it had consented not to sell conventional weapons to Iran.

Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Noam Katz said Israel was "keeping an eye on" the meetings in Teheran.

Katz added that in statements about the meetings, Russia had indicated it would try to come up with mechanisms to limit weapons of mass destruction and missile sales.

"We have dialogued about [weapons of mass destruction and missiles] with the Russians," Katz said, but declined to give any details about those discussions. The subjects of missiles and weapons of mass destruction are "very important" to Israel, he added.

However, he acknowledged that Israel has its own interests, which may not be the same as Russia's interests. "We know Russia understands our interests."

Iran, which advocates wiping the Jewish state off the map, test-fired a Shahab-3 ballistic missile this summer with a range of nearly 800 miles. Israel believes that it is being built in order to equip it with nuclear warheads.

It could take several more years until the missile is fully operational, but Russia is believed to be helping with its development. Although Iran does not yet have non-conventional warheads, some experts say that it does have stockpiles of chemical weapons.

Washington and other nations have expressed their concerns that a Russia's building of a nuclear power plant in Iran could pave the way for it's acquisition of materials and knowledge, which could be used to make a nuclear bomb. Both Moscow and Teheran have denied such charges.

Moscow has pledged that it will not supply Iran with any components or technology, which could aid in the development or launching weapons of mass destruction, however the government said that its decision to resume arms sales is an "internal affair."

"We won't violate any international treaties by our military cooperation," Sergeyev said upon his arrival in Teheran. "I don't think we will sign any contracts this time."

Iran's defense minister Ali Shamkhani said on Monday that Tehran was very interested in expanding its military ties with Moscow.

"The geographic position of the two countries in this sensitive region necessitates close cooperation," Shamkhani was quoted as saying. "In accordance with Iran's foreign policy, development of military ties with Russia is high on the agenda."

Among other things, Sergeyev is due to discuss the expansion of Nato as well as the current Middle East crisis.

Sergeyev's visit coincides with Russia's deployment of a third set of new intercontinental nuclear missiles in southwest Russia. They can be fired from a mobile launcher making them harder to detect and more likely to survive a first-strike nuclear attack.

The U.S. welcomed the move as a step toward replacing multiple warhead missiles banned by the START II arms control treaty.