Jay Solomon
Jay Solomon
Mar 9, 2023, 5:36am EST
securityNorth America

Iranian official says purchase of Russian fighter jets complete

Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sign up for Semafor Security: A window into global dangers and deals.

Title icon

The Scoop

Iran’s Mission to the United Nations confirmed to Semafor that it has finalized a deal with Moscow to purchase advanced Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets — the first official confirmation of a high-stakes transaction with implications from the front lines in Ukraine to the delicate balance of power in the Middle East.

Tehran’s statement follows my Monday story that detailed secret efforts by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to lobby the Kremlin against making the sale.

Iran’s spokesman in New York, Mojtaba Babaei, denied U.S., European, and Ukrainian charges that Tehran and the Kremlin are cooperating in Ukraine, largely through the deployment of Iranian drones. But he provided details on the fighter-jet sale, though not their delivery date or numbers.

“Following the end of the imposed [Iran-Iraq] war (1988), Iran asked a bunch of countries to buy fighter jets, and Russia said it was open to selling,” Babaei wrote. “The SU-35 fighter jets were technically acceptable to Iran, so after October 2020 and the end of Iran's restrictions on conventional weapons purchases (UN Resolution 2231), Iran finalized the deal to buy them.”

Title icon

Know More

Acquiring Russian jets and helicopters could be transformative for Iran’s military, which currently suffers from a depleted air force and a limited ability to source parts and technology due to Western sanctions. It would vastly strengthen Tehran’s ability to operate in theaters like Syria, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf, defense strategists told Semafor.

Officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have been lobbying Russia not to send advanced military hardware to Iran, fearing that their strengthening alliance could affect the balance of power in the Middle East.

Arab diplomats have told Russian officials that supplying Tehran with advanced weapons would not only destabilize the military balance in the Persian Gulf but also place Russia firmly on the side of Iran in a potential conflict, isolating Moscow from its Arab partners. Arab officials say they have asked Russia to at least delay any weapons shipments to Iran if it won’t agree to cancel them outright.