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January 16, 2023 4:51 pm
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Iran to Receive Russian Fighter Jets by March in Latest Sign of Growing Military Ties: Iranian Media

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avatar by Andrew Bernard

An Iranian Air Force MiG-29. Photo: Shahram Sharifi via Wikimedia Commons.

Iranian media on Sunday reported that Iran expects to take delivery of 24 Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets by the end of March, as the burgeoning military alliance between the two countries continues to gather pace.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency cited the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Shahriar Heidari in announcing the delivery, which will also include “air defense systems, missile systems and helicopters.”

Tasnim said that the Su-35 will be Iran’s first foreign acquisition of fighters since it purchased “a few” MiG-29s from Russia in the 1990s. In 1992, the New York Times reported a much larger Iranian aircraft purchasing program, including more than 100 MiGs of various types purchased from Russia and former Soviet states.

The Biden administration first briefed reporters in December that Russia was training Iranian pilots on the Su-35 for a possible delivery in early 2023. “These fighter planes will significantly strengthen Iran’s air force relative to its regional neighbors,” US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said on 9 Dec.

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As a so-called 4.5 generation fighter, the Su-35 would be a substantial upgrade to Iran’s aging aerial fleet, which continues to fly F-14 Tomcats acquired in the 1970s under the Shah and that were retired by the US in 2006.

The Su-35 is believed to be competitive with the F-15 and F-16 4th and 4.5-generation fighters operated US partners in the region including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, but is less advanced than the fifth-generation US F-22 or F-35, the latter of which has also been acquired by Israel.

The delivery would mark the latest example of ever deepening military ties between Iran and Russia. Ukrainian defense officials say that Iran has so far sent Russia more than 2,000 drones that have been used both on the battlefield and in indiscriminate attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure.

The US State Department now describes Iran as Russia’s top military backer. On 10 January, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Iran’s arms shipments to Russia may amount to complicity in war crimes.

“I think it’s clear that Iran is contributing to Russian war crimes in Ukraine,” Orde Kittrie, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former State Department attorney, told The Algemeiner earlier this month. “Iran transferred these lethal drones to Russia many months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was clear to all, based on what Russia was already doing with its own missiles, that Russia would use these drones in egregious violation of the law of armed conflict, by deliberately or indiscriminately using the drones to attack civilian persons and objects. Yet the Iranian regime transferred these lethal drones to Russia anyway, and Russia indeed used them to commit war crimes.”

Iran’s military alliance with Russia has bolstered Ukrainian demands on Israel to match its humanitarian aid operation with military assistance. Kyiv insists that Iran’s belligerent position towards Israel is enough reason for Jerusalem to change its policy on this front.

However, there are fears Israel’s newly-elected right-wing government may align more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. On Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Israel as a “difficult country” during a press briefing in which he speculated on Israeli-Russian ties.

“Iran has become an open Russian ally,” Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the State of Israel, told The Algemeiner Sunday. “That must bring us closer together.”

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