Moscow will complete its delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran by the end of the year, the head of Russia state-owned defense conglomerate said Tuesday, after months of speculation over whether the advanced weapon would be transferred to Tehran at all.
Sergei Chemezov, the head of weapons behemoth Rostec, also confirmed that part of the advanced weapons system had already been sent to Iran, according to the Interfax news agency.
Earlier this week, several trucks loaded with what Iran said were parts of the system, including vehicles and missile housing, were paraded through Tehran during an event to mark the country’s annual Army Day, days after an Iranian official said Russia had begun to carry out its part of the deal following years of start-and-stop negotiations.
Photos of parts of the S-300 showcased at the parade were published on Iranian news sites and posted on social media.
According to the semi-official Fars News, the parts did not include the missiles themselves.
The Russian-made missile defense system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, offering long-range protection against both airplanes and missiles.
Israel has long sought to block the sale to Iran of the S-300 system, which analysts say could impede a potential Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Other officials have expressed concern that the systems could reach Syria and Hezbollah, diluting Israel’s regional air supremacy.
Speaking at the Tehran parade Sunday at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mausoleum, President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would come to the aid of countries seeking to combat terrorists or Israel.
“If tomorrow your capitals face danger from terrorism or Zionism, the power that will give you a positive answer is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. But he added that Iran would only help if Muslim countries asked it to, and said its military power was purely for defensive and deterrent purposes.
Last week, Iran claimed it began receiving the S-300 missile defense system from Russia, but quickly retracted the claim, saying only that Russia had begun to carry out the agreement to sell Iran the weapon.
In 2010 Russia froze a deal to supply the system to Iran, linking the decision to UN sanctions instituted because of Tehran’s nuclear program. Putin lifted the suspension in July 2015, following Iran’s deal with six world powers that curbed its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
In the last several months, there have been multiple reports in the Russian and Iranian press that delivery of the system was imminent or had been carried out.
In March, Chemezov told Russian news agency RIAQ-Novosti that the first shipments would be completed in July or August and the delivery of the system would be completed by the end of 2016.
The Israeli Air Force has trained for a scenario in which it would have to carry out strikes in Syria or Iran on facilities defended by the Russian-made S-300 air defense system.
In an interview late last year, IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said the S-300 was a “significant but not insurmountable challenge” for the IAF.
“The power of our armed forces is not against our southern, northern, eastern and western neighbors,” he said.
Judah Ari Gross and AP contributed to this report.