Saudi Arabia may become the first foreign buyer of Russia’s deadly Iskander-E missile system, Kommersant newspaper reported Wednesday in the wake of a meeting between the Russian and Saudi foreign ministers in Moscow, citing unidentified Russian defense industry sources.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir officially confirmed his country’s interest in the Russian missiles at a press conference on Tuesday, and according to IHS Jane’s 360 defense analysis group, the Saudis are interested in a wide variety of hardware, including new frigates for their navy.
“Intensive contacts are taking place between the military delegations and specialists from both countries and a wide range of intended types of armaments from Russia is being discussed, including Iskander missile systems,” al-Jubeir was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying Tuesday.
But according to Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defense think tank, it is highly unlikely that a Saudi-Russian arms deal will go through.
“The Iskander is a very deadly system, and we don’t know how Saudi Arabia might use it … and they are close allies of the U.S., so there is a risk that if we deliver Iskanders to them, the U.S. will get to inspect the system and then develop countermeasures against it, because it’s also designed to hit U.S. allies in Europe, such as Poland,” Pukhov said.
The Iskander is, roughly, the equivelant to the US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short range missile.
There’s a couple things going on here.First, the Iskander is a potent weapon. The article discusses its use as a frontline weapon, but it’s most likely role versus Iran would be in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (the first wartime shot of ATACMS in Desert Storm pummeled an Iraqi SA-2 site).
With Iran pursuing both nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology, Saudi Arabia naturally feels compelled to do likewise. Of course, Saudi Arabia already has some significant ballistic missile capability.