Putin pledges fighter jets and air defense system for Iran to distract the West from Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi prior to their talks earlier this year. (AP)

Russian military officials have quietly been supporting Iran with weapons and information as the crisis in the Middle East escalates, it has emerged.

A strategic alliance between the two hostile nations, reports the Washington Post, has seen Russia supply an array of artillery to Iran, including prized anti-aircraft launchers and drones.

The reported deals are evidence of a concerning dynamic between the two nations, which experts warn show Iran is growing in strength and negotiating power as it barrels towards war.

‘It’s no longer the patron-client dynamic, where Russia holds all the leverage,’ said Hanna Notte, director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

‘The Iranians are accruing benefits from this change. The nature of their relationship has gone beyond just getting things. There’s knowledge transfer, there’s intangible gains.’

Experts warned that the growing relationship between Russia and Iran took a large step forward in 2022, when Iran agreed to help bolster the invasion of Ukraine.

House Republicans are planning dozens of votes on measures in support of Israel and condemnation of Iran after the weekend attacks, but still do not have a path forward on funding for the U.S. ally. Speaker Mike Johnson has put 17 new bills involving Iran and Israel on the House floor schedule after Iran launched drone attacks on Israel over the weekend.

This agreement saw Iran supply thousands of battlefield drones and missiles, a move that the Kremlin has reportedly been interested in reciprocating.

Russia has vowed to support Iran with air defense technology and advanced fighter jets, particularly as it is facing the possibility of counter strikes from Israel in the wake of its halted attack on Tel-Aviv last week.

Intelligence officials and weapons experts told the Washington Post that the supply of weapons to Iran make it a far more formidable military in modern warfare if it has an enhanced ability to shoot down planes and missiles.

Such a capability was shown in full force following Iran’s strikes on Israel, as international allies helped shoot down almost all drones heading to the nation.

In particular, Iran is said to covet Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft launchers, which military analysts say are able to detect and destroy stealth fighter jets operated by Israel and the United States.

According to the outlet, a Russian arms dealer was caught inviting a delegation of Iranians to tour one of his weapons factories, named NPP Start, in March 2023.

The factory was under US sanctions for supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its hosting of the Iranian delegation was not known until February.

That month, a hacker group shared stolen Iranian emails that saw Russians describe the meeting as an exhibition for ‘scientific and technical potential and production capabilities.’

While it is not clear whether any weapons were bought in that trip, analysts have seen it as a clear intention that the relationship between the two nations is already forged as they head deeper into conflict.

According to the cited anonymous experts, this collaboration will extend beyond anti-aircraft launchers, and may also include the co-production of military drones inside Russia.

It may also include the sharing of anti-jamming technology, and information sharing over weapons deployment against forces in Ukraine.

The emerging dynamic between Russia and Iran may also be enhancing Iran’s air force, which had been seen as falling behind other world militaries.

The Iranian air force is primarily made up of rebuilt US and Soviet jets from before 1979, however intelligence officials warned that Russia has been ‘advancing’ a deal to supply Su-35 fighter jets.

The fighter jets would be a significant upgrade on Iran’s fleet, however the officials reportedly said there is no evidence they have received them yet, which may be due to a delay in payment.

Russia may also be looking to support Iranian efforts to increase its supply of spy satellites, and help build rockets to send more into space, the intelligence officials reportedly said.

The potential step up in Iranian military might comes as the nation continues to barrel towards war with Israel, including sending hundreds of drones and missiles in retaliation for an Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1.

The strike in Damascus killed two Iranian generals, leading Iran to send its counterstrike directly from its homeland instead of via proxies in a dramatic escalation.

US officials have reportedly stressed the need for restraint from Israel in response, however IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi warned Monday that Iran ‘will be met with a response.’ 

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