Iran, Saudis to buy advanced Russian systems for Syria's military

by Geo-Strategy

April 2, 2003

Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to finance an ambitious program to modernize Syria's military.

Gulf industry and Russian sources said Riyad and Teheran have pledged several hundred million dollars over the next five years to upgrade Syria's land-based military systems. The money would also help finance sales of advanced Russian anti-aircraft systems, officials said.

Since 1997, President Bashar Assad's regime has pressed Saudi Arabia for financial aid to modernize Syria's military. But Riyad, plagued by a severe budget shortfall, has refused to commit itself.

Russian sources said Saudi Arabia changed its tune earlier this year.

The new program includes an upgrade of Syria's T-72 main battle tank fleet and BMP-1 infantry combat vehicles. Iran and Saudi Arabia also agreed to help Syria purchase the long-range S-300PMU-1 and the shorter-range Buk M-1 and Tor M-1 systems.

Under the agreement, Russia would transfer technology to Syria for all of the weapons ordered by Damascus, sources said. Iran and Saudi Arabia would also have access to the technology.

The Russian sources said offers of financial aid from Iran and Saudi Arabia have paved the way for an agreement with Syria for a major weapons contract. An agreement could be reached by the end of 2003.

Western diplomatic sources confirmed that Iran and Saudi Arabia have offered to help Syria defray its $11 billion debt to Moscow.

But the sources said Russia has long withheld selling advanced weaponry to Damascus because of U.S. opposition. "The Iranians and Saudis are coming with cash and this has been very tempting for Moscow," a diplomatic source said. "There are appeals from Russian defense contractors for Moscow to take the deal. So far, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has not decided to sell anything major to Syria."