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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Report: Iran missile defense ready by 2009

JERUSALEM — Iran can be expected to deploy an advanced long-range air defense system next year, according to a new think tank report.

The report said Iran has bought the S-300PMU-2 air defense system and would begin deployment in 2009, Middle East Newsline reported. By the middle of next year, Iran was expected to begin operations of the air defense umbrella.

"In March 2009, Russia is likely to deploy modern S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missiles in Iran," the report by the Institute for Contemporary Affairs said. "By June 2009 they will become fully operational, as Iranian teams finish training provided by their Russian instructors, according to a high-level Russian source who requested anonymity."

The report, authored by U.S. analyst Ariel Cohen, said the S-300 would complement other Russian air defense systems in Iran, particularly the TOR-M1. In 2007 Russia delivered 29 TOR-M1 systems to Iran in a sale reported at $700 million.

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"The S-300 system, which has a radius of over 90 miles and effective altitudes of about 90,000 feet, is capable of tracking up to 100 targets simultaneously," the report, titled "The Russian-Georgian War: Implications for the Middle East," said. "It is considered one of the best in the world and is amazingly versatile. It is capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missile warheads."

The report said the S-300 would hamper any Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear weapons facilities. Cohen said Iran would deploy the S-300 to defend the nation's nuclear infrastructure.

"The deployment of the anti-aircraft shield next spring, if it occurs, effectively limits the window in which Israel or the United States could conduct an effective aerial campaign aimed at destroying, delaying or crippling the Iranian nuclear program," the report said. "The Islamic republic will use the long-range anti-aircraft system, in addition to the point-defense TOR-M-1 short-range Russian-made system, to protect its nuclear infrastructure, including suspected nuclear weapons facilities, from a potential U.S. or Israeli preventive strike."

Cohen, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said Israel has used electronic warfare to defeat Soviet- and Russian-origin technologies, including air defense systems. In 1982, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the Syrian air defense umbrella in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, leading to a loss of 90 Syrian fighter-jets in two days.

"However, a mission over Iran, if and when decided upon, is very different than operations over neighboring Syria," the report said. "First, if Israel waits until March 2009, there may be a president in the White House who emphasizes diplomacy over military operations. Even if the George W. Bush administration allows Israel overflight of Iraqi airspace and aerial refueling, a future administration might not, opting for an aggressive diplomacy approach instead -- especially with an emboldened and truculent Russia as a geopolitical counter-balance."

Cohen, quoting a Russian source, said Israel was capable of striking 20 targets simultaneously. But the report said Iran might have as many as 100 nuclear facilities.

"Many of the Iranian targets are fortified, and will require bunker busters," the report said. "Operational challenges abound. Israel's EW planes, needed to suppress anti-aircraft batteries, are slow and unarmed, and could become a target for Iranian anti-aircraft missiles or even fighter sorties."

"But the most important question analysts are asking is whether the current Israeli leadership has the knowledge and the gumption to pull it off," the report said. "After all, the results of the 2006 mini-war against Hizbullah were disastrous for Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces have exposed numerous flaws in its preparedness, supply chain, and command, control, communications and intelligence."

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