While most American media are focused on the debate over health care reform, believe it or not, there is other stuff happening in the world…some of it important, or at least intriguing. One of those stories is an evolving one about the hijacking of a Russian freighter, allegations that the freighter was carrying arms for Iran, and secret trips to Moscow by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Wednesday, the BBC reported that Israel had been involved in the effort to find and stop a hijacked Russian freighter, the Arctic Light, in part because it believed the ship to be carrying part of an S-300 missile defense system bound for Iran. Concern was said to have sparked a trip to Moscow by Netanyahu, something that Netanyahu’s office initially denied. The BBC said,
Israel was linked to the interception of the missing cargo ship Arctic Sea last month, a senior figure close to Israeli intelligence has told the BBC.
The source said Israel had told Moscow it knew the ship was secretly carrying a Russian air defence system for Iran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has dismissed speculation that S-300 missiles were on board the ship.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has denied making a secret visit to Moscow on Monday.
Mr Netanyahu’s office says he was visiting an Israeli security installation when he vanished from public view for much of the day.
So, Russia denied that there was an air defense system on board. Israel denied that Netanyahu had visited Moscow. But, as it turns out, Netanyahu did in fact visit Moscow on September 7. Ha’aretz reports:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow on Monday was part of quiet diplomacy between Russia and Israel over Russia’s plan to supply S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, Haaretz has learned.
A senior government source in Jerusalem confirmed yesterday that Netanyahu was in Russia for talks on security issues, particularly the sale of Russian weapons to Iran. The missiles could help Iran protect its nuclear facilities from attack.
(The failed attempt to keep the trip secret has caused quite a roue in Israel. Again, see Ha’aretz on the issue.)
What we still need to know is whether there were pieces of an S-300 missile defense system on board the hijacked ship, or at least a confirmation of whether the Israelis in fact believed that there were. The BBC’s source seems to have been correct about Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow. Was the source also correct about Israeli belief that the ship was carrying an air defense system? And were Israeli beliefs correct ones?
The Iranians ordered the S-300 system a year ago but have not yet taken delivery of the order, in part as a result of Western pressure on Russia to delay shipment. The reason is that the Israelis see the system as severely limiting their ability to strike Iranian nuclear facilities if they decide that it is necessary to do so. The concern is that delivery of the S-300 system would force Israel’s hand, leading them to strike Iran before the system is fully operational and capable of repelling such a strike. Thus, the possibility that Russia is secretly delivering the S-300, if true, could prove to be quite a serious development.