Russia’s growing dependence on Iran for firepower in its war against Ukraine has broken the boundaries on cooperation between the two countries, according to a former Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence officer.
Danny (Dennis) Citrinowicz, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS that in recent years Russia and Iran had developed “significant” relations, which intensified due to their joint military actions in Syria to save Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Still, he added, there were unspoken limits to these relations, mainly rooted in the two countries’ opposing interests in some areas, but also due to historical baggage. The war in Ukraine “broke the glass ceiling,” he said, “and today we see unprecedented cooperation between the two countries.”
Citrinowicz spoke a few days after Mossad Director David Barnea warned on Sunday at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s World Summit, held at Reichman University in Herzliya, that “the first factor feeding Iran’s over-inflated ego is the assistance it has been giving Russia through the sale of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles].”
In an extraordinary statement, Barnea then added, “We know that the Iranians were planning to sell Russia short-range and long-range missiles too, but this deal has been interdicted. I have a feeling that more deals will be interdicted soon. We are concerned that the Russians will meet Iran’s demands to supply it with weapons and raw materials that will put Israel at risk.”
While Citrinowicz cautioned against calling Russia-Iran ties a “”real military alliance,” he said that there was “no doubt” that cooperation between the two countries had risen “very significantly” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
So much so, he said, that “Russia is developing a dependence on Iran, which will only deepen due to the ongoing situation in Ukraine.”
This, he noted, could lead Iran to increase its demands of Russia in various fields, including the military field. “In light of this, we are likely to see a deepening of this relationship, advancing issues we haven’t seen discussed between the two countries before,” said Citrinowicz, who served for 25 years in a variety of command positions in the Israel Defense Force’s Military Intelligence Directorate.
Noting that the Iranian government under President Ebrahim Raisi is oriented to the East, tightening cooperation with Russia aligns with this policy, said Citrinowicz.
“It should be emphasized that the collaboration is not just military, but also political-economic,” he stated, noting that Russia is helping Iran join BRICS (a grouping of the world economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). “Unfortunately, this will only deepen,” he assessed.
In the Syrian context, the U.S. government has publicly accused Russia of acting against the American presence in the country due to Moscow’s desire to please Tehran, he said.
It is possible that Russia may try to limit Israel’s actions in Syria, where it targets Iranian entrenchment efforts, to please Iran as well, he warned.
While Israel focuses on the Iranian aspect of the Tehran-Moscow relationship, Washington has also drawn attention to the Russian side.
“The question is, how much longer Israel can continue its current policy and focus only on Iran, while also maintaining its relations with Moscow,” said Citrinowicz. “The stronger the relationship between Iran and Russia becomes, the harder it will be for Israel to maintain its stance,” he added.
Commenting on Barnea’s speech, he added that generally, “Intelligence exposures are meant to signal to relevant players that we know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes, so they’d better stop their actions.”
The West and particularly the United States have been doing this with regard to the war in Ukraine as well, he added, in the hope that releasing information will be enough to make Russia and Iran rethink their steps.
“The problem is that the message is not always received, as evidenced by the fact that in July 2022, [U.S. National Security Advisor Jake] Sullivan exposed the military cooperation between Russia and Iran in the context of UAVs,” he said. “Did it influence the depth of Iranian assistance to Russia? I’m not sure,” he added.
During Sunday’s speech, Barnea noted that in October, the surface-to-surface missile embargo on Iran, agreed upon as part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement, will be lifted, although Iran is actually already breaching it.
“It is clear that Iran will take advantage of this to rapidly and inexpensively procure everything it needs to manufacture ever larger quantities of increasingly high quality missiles and UAVs,” he cautioned.
Barnea called for the creation of a united front, as extensive as possible, of countries willing to enact their own legislation based on the principles of the missile embargo.
“The international community must stand firm against Iran, refuse to remain silent in the face of its negative conduct, and act to restrain it. We must use a variety of tools and methods against its nuclear program, its regional policies, and its terror activity,” he stated.
Nevertheless, the fact that Iran has been able to deliver over 1,000 UAVs to Russia, as well as other military equipment, means it will be impossible to fully isolate the Islamic Republic at this stage.
In addition to the likely technological knowledge and experience that Russia is likely to share with Iran, Tehran will receive Russian backing in the United Nations Security Council through veto backing in any vote that targets Iran.