Israel's security suffered a major setback on the eve of its homeland war-safety exercise (starting Sunday, May 23) from three Obama administration concessions that were granted to buy Moscow's backing for UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. One was the deletion of an embargo on sophisticated weaponry, including the suspended sale of Russian S-300 systems sought by Tehran for shooting down any US or Israel warplanes attacking its nuclear sites.
As Israel prepared to drill millions of the country's civilians to prepare for synchronized assault by hundreds of rockets and missiles from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, Washington awarded Moscow, i.e. Tehran, three additional gains.
US officials indicated they did not rule out a new round of nuclear negotiations with Tehran - even after the Brazilian-Turkish-mediated enriched uranium deal signed with Iran last Monday, May 17.
And on Friday, May 21, the administration scrapped sanctions against the Russian state arms export agency and three other Russian entities that were penalized in the past for transferring sensitive technology or weapons to Iran. Also lifted were sanctions against a fourth Russian entity for illicit arms sales to Syria, including technology for developing the very missiles against which Israel's five-day exercise is preparing the public next week.
Our Washington sources report that the Obama administration bought Russia's backing for a weak UN sanctions resolution by giving way on penalties detrimental to Iran's economy or impeding its nuclear program. America thus opened the door for Russia to start training Iranian S-300 missile crews - without Israeli raising its voice in protest in either capital.
(On May 19, DEBKAfile disclosed for the first time that these crews were already in training at Russian military bases.)
Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee, reaffirmed in a TV Channel One interview Friday night that a nuclear-armed Iran would imperil Israel's very existence. He, like many other Israelis in official positions, strongly gainsays assertions to the contrary by defense minister Ehud Barak.
Saturday, after the new US concessions came to light, administration officials tried to allay criticism in Congress by claiming that Moscow had improved its performance on Iran and would stand by its understanding with Washington not to proceed with the S-300 sale.
However, the training of Iranian operating crews looks more like bringing the sale forward than holding it back.
DEBKAfile's Iranian sources point out that in five short days - since accepting the Brazilian-Turkish uranium swap deal - Tehran has substantially enhanced its international and strategic position in four critical areas:
1. Tough UN sanctions are off the table, leaving individual governments the freedom to proceed, or not, with unilateral penalties against Iran's nuclear violations.
2. The heavily-diluted UN draft omits any mention of energy bans, such the refined oil products, a provision formerly advocated by Washington as the most effective means of forcing Iran to abandon its drive for a nuclear weapon.
3. Not only has the notion of a sea blockade gone by the board, but heavy restrictions are clamped down on searches of vessels suspected of carrying contraband military or nuclear cargoes, for which permission must now be requested by the nation flagged. This allows Iran and Syria to safely import nuclear materials and missiles by sea without fear of interception.
Even before the haggling begins, therefore, the new "sanctions" draft before the UN Security Council scarcely answers to its description.
4. The Obama administration's inclination to treat the new uranium exchange deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey as the Six-Power Group's springboard for bringing Tehran back to the negotiating table offers Iran the gift of more time and space to achieve its ultimate objective of a nuclear weapon.
Military sources point out to DEBKAfile, that Washington's uneven and inconsistent approach to Iran and Syria make naught of the protestations made by President Obama and other US officials of their unshakeable commitment to Israel's security. The unhindered delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran, like the latest Russian arms deal with Syria, substantially offsets Israel's capacity to deter its enemies. Not only are its air force pilots placed in harm's way; so too is the country's entire population. Debka