Logistics: The Coalition Of the Desperate In Iran And Russia

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November 18, 2022: For nearly two weeks Russian and Iranian officials have been meeting in the Iranian capital, seeking to work out a deal that benefits both countries. This sort of bargaining took place in 2015 as the Iranians persuaded Russia to make a major military commitment to Syria and assist Iran in establishing a strong enough military presence there so they could directly attack Israel. The Russians arrived and helped Iran and the Syrian Assad government to suppress the rebels, but creating a real threat to Israel was less successful. The Israelis were far more powerful militarily than the Syrian rebels and used hundreds of airstrikes and some ground operations to prevent the Iranian buildup.

Iran called on Russia to use its modern aircraft and anti-aircraft systems to halt or disrupt the Israeli air campaign. Russia never made public why it did not do this, or at least tried, but the Iranians were informed that Russia could not force the Israelis to back off and any attempt to do so would cost Russia a lot of warplanes and air defense systems. Russia depended on these new military systems for export sales and their usefulness in Syria was helping with that. Any military conflict with the Israelis would demolish the relatively good reputation of Russian warplanes and air defense systems. More importantly, Russia and Israel had been on good terms from the beginning (Israel’s founding in 1948). Iran and Russia were historically rivals and often at war with each other. Russia and Israel worked out a compromise. Russia would not interfere with Israeli attacks on Iranian operations and Israel would not go after Russian warplanes, air defense systems or other new military tech Russia was using in Syria. Israel would pretend to fear Russian threats against Israeli airstrikes while continuing the attacks anyway. Iran had no choice but to tolerate this Russian relationship with Israel. Russian air power was still useful against others who opposed the Iranian presence in Syria. Russia and Iran also developed economic cooperation, especially when it came to dealing with sanctions. Until 2014 Iran had far more problems with this. After Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014 and especially after the 2022 move to seize all of Ukraine, Russia had to deal with more sanctions. This time around Iran and Russia have become a “coalition of the desperate” while seeking to help each other out.

Currently Russia and Iran are equally crippled by sanctions and seeking to negotiate a trade deal that would help both countries. Both countries have something the other needs and the negotiations are seeking to determine the trade value of each other’s goods. Iran has modern weapons built without access to foreign tech and components. Iran has limited production capabilities for their missiles but has managed to build up stockpiles it has been willing to sell to Russia. These stockpiles are depleted and Iran wants more than cash (about $140 million) and captured Western weapons from Ukrainian battles they received for the first shipments of missiles. Iran wants some modern Russian warplanes as well as spare parts for some of the older Russian warplanes Iran still has. Russia does not have many aircraft or spare parts on hand to give. Iran would also take Russian help with developing nuclear weapons. Russia considers the nuclear request toxic and carrying long term risks. Iran would like some Russian assistance dealing with the ongoing anti-government demonstrations that seem unstoppable after two months. There’s not much Russia can offer that Iran doesn’t already have. The Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) has proved to be as lethal as the Cold War era Russian KGB. Since the Cold War ended the hard core and hated KGB was put aside and replaced by the FSB, a milder version of the Soviet-era KGB. With the old KGB gone, Russia has no personnel available to send to Iran to help suppress the unrest.

In the end the trade negotiations come down to what value to place on what each side has to offer. Some agreement will eventually be achieved and in the meantime the Ukrainians are enjoying an absence of Russian missile strikes on economic targets. Ukraine is also receiving more air defense systems and making a case for receiving some advanced systems, like Patriot, to deal with Iranian ballistic missiles Russia is seeking to acquire and use against Ukraine. Ukraine points out that this is an opportunity to see just how effective current Western BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) systems are against Iranian missiles. No decision on that yet but one could be made and acted on quickly if Russia gets the Iranian missiles it is seeking.

 


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