Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW: Russia has begun deliveries of its most potent air defence systemsto Iran, a Russian news agency reported.

Russia is currently fulfilling a contract to deliver S-300 air defencesystems to Iran, RIA news agency reported quoting confidential sources inthe Russian Defence Ministry.

The move has rattled Israel, which has immediately dispatched a seniorDefence Ministry official to Russia to thwart the sale.

Moscow earlier met its obligations on supplying Tor-M1 systems to Iran andis currently implementing a contract to deliver S-300 systems, RIA said.Russia supplied 29 Tor-M1 short-range air-defence complexes to Iran a yearago under a $1.4-billion contract.

The S-300 is a long-range air defence system. Earlier defence sources saidMoscow was planning to sell Iran five batteries of 300PMU-1 launchers at aprice of $800 million. A typical S-300 battery contains 48 missiles on 12mobile launchers. The S-300PMU can intercept missiles and aircraft from morethan 120 km away.

The powerful combination of advanced short-range and long-range air defencesystems will enable Iran to counter any Israeli or U.S. attacks.Israeli Defence Ministry official Amos Gilad arrived in Moscow on Wednesdayto try and persuade the Russians to cancel the deal on the grounds that itcould upset the balance of power in West Asia. Russia has rejected theIsraeli protest.

Russia's military and technical cooperation with Iran has a positive impacton stability in this region," deputy head of Russia's Federal MilitaryTechnical Cooperation Service Alexander Fomin told RIA.

We have developed, are developing and will continue to develop thiscooperation further. The region's security to a large extent depends onthis, he added.

In another move that strengthens Russia's influence in West Asia, Moscowoffered to give Lebanon as a gift 10 MiG-29 fighter jets. U.S. mediadescribed the offer as a slap to the U.S., which has refused to provideLebanon with modern warplanes that could threaten Israel.

Lebanon's Defence Minister Elias Murr said the unexpected offer made histrip to Moscow this week "the most important visit I have made since myappointment as Minister of Defence.