Iran has deployed a Russian made S-300 air defence system at its underground Fordo nuclear facility, Iranian state television reported on Sunday. Video footage posted online shows trucks arriving at the site and missile launchers being aimed skyward, raising concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Russian-made missile defence system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, offering long-range protection against both aircraft and missiles. Since 2010, Russia has frozen deals to supply the system to Iran, linking their decision to the implementation of UN sanctions due to Tehran’s nuclear programme. The conclusion of the agreement between the P5+1 group of world powers and Iran in April 2015, which subsequently led to the lifting of sanctions against Iran in exchange for limits on Tehran’s nuclear programme, fuelled Putin’s decision to lift suspensions against Iran.
Iran’s actions have been viewed by many as a cause for concern. Israel and the US previously sought to block the Russian sale to Iran of the S-300 system, due to the system’s ability to obstruct potential Israeli strikes against Tehran’s nuclear facilities, coupled with its capability to shoot down several aircraft and missiles simultaneously.
Whilst Iran halted uranium enrichment at Fordo under the nuclear agreement, instead arguing the site’s use being for research and production, the decision to quickly set up the system may indicate an ulterior motivation.
Tal Inbar, Head of the Space and UAV Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategies Studies in Herzliya, described the Iranian action as “poking a finger in the eyes of the West” and a provocative move that signals high Iranian confidence, particularly due to the speed at which the system was set up.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “We’ve seen the reports of this deployment. Obviously, that’s of concern to us because we have long objected to the sale of these kinds of capabilities”.
However, Iran continues to insist that it has never sought nuclear arms, with Iranian Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili – commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ air defence force- commenting that Iran’s main priority “is to protect Iran’s nuclear facilities under any circumstances”. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, echoed this, stressing that the “S-300 system is a defence system, not an assault one”.