Russia and Israel have clashed again over Israeli charges that Iran continues to receive Russian missile technology and that — because of the Russian aid — Iran is getting ever closer to producing its own ballistic missile. In an interview published by the Russian newspaper Izvestia on April 14, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the missile cooperation between Russia and Iran is a significant obstacle to improved Russian-Israeli relations. The Israeli leader said that he had long hoped for considerably closer ties between the two countries, particularly given the fact that one million Russian-speakers live in Israel. Netanyahu also said that he had hoped Israel might join its domestic technological boom to Russia’s industrial infrastructure in joint efforts aimed at producing products for export to third countries. But he made clear that such cooperation cannot happen until the Russian government takes concrete steps to stop the leakage of Russian missile technology to Iran. (Russian agencies, April 13)
The directness of Netanyahu’s appeal is new, but the charges are not. Israel, like the United States, has repeatedly accused Russian authorities of, at best, turning a blind eye to cooperation between Russian missile specialists and their Iranian counterparts. Reports in the U.S. media, moreover, have suggested that Russia’s Federal Security Service is itself involved in facilitating that cooperation. Israel raised the issue most recently during a visit to Moscow in early March by Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky. A Russian newspaper reported at that time of a closed door meeting between Sharansky and then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin at which Israel was said to have offered to increase its military technical cooperation with Russia in return for a curtailment of Russia’s defense cooperation with Iran and Syria. (Russky telegraf, March 3; see Monitor, March 5) During a visit to Israel last October, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov was told that Israel would oppose a greater role for Moscow in the Middle East peace process until Russian-Iranian missile cooperation ceased.
In a response to the remarks in Netanyahu’s interview, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valery Nesterushkin repeated yet again that Moscow abides by international missile non-proliferation standards and that Russian authorities take all measures necessary to curb the illegal export of the related technologies. As proof of Russia’s successful crackdown on missile technology smuggling, he cited a Federal Security Services announcement of April 9. It said that Russia had arrested three foreigners suspected of trying to ship twenty-two tons of specialty steel to Iran — steel that might have been intended for use in missile components. That announcement had the look of window dressing, however, and in itself is unlikely to convince many in Israel or the United States of a new Russian commitment to stopping missile cooperation with Iran.
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