Iran buys 250 long-distance Sukhoi fighter-bombers, 20 fuel tankers, from Russia

Tehran and the Russian Rosoboronexport arms group are about to sign a
mammoth arms deal running into tens of billions of dollars for the sale to
Tehran of 250 Su-30MKM warplanes and 20 IL-78 MKI fuel tankers. DEBKAfile's
military sources report Iran has stipulated delivery of the first aircraft
before the end of 2007.

The transaction, Russia's largest arms deal in 30 years, will endow Iran
with a long-range aerial assault capability. The Sukhoi can sustain a
four-and-a-half hour raid at its maximum range of 3,000 km against
long-distance, marine and low-lying ground targets across the Persian Gulf
and Middle East, including Israel and Lebanon.

The fuel tankers extends the Su-30MKM's assault sustainability to 10 hours
and its range to 8,000 km at altitudes of 11-13 km. The closest comparable
plane in the West is the American F-15E fighter bomber. Iran's acquisition
of an exceptionally large fleet of the Russian fighter-bomber will elevate
its air force to one of the two largest and most advanced in the region,
alongside the Israeli Air Force.

Iranian air crews are already training on the new Sukhoi aircraft, ready to
start flying them early next year with only a short delay after delivery.
DEBKAfile's sources report that Moscow is selling Tehran the same Sukhoi
model as India received earlier this year. The Iranians leaned hard on New
Delhi to let them have the Israeli avionics and electronics the Indian Air
Force had installed in the Russian craft. India refused.

Russia began delivering the same craft in June to Malaysia, which also
sought Israeli avionics without success. The Su-20MKM has won the nickname
of "Islamic Version of Sukhoi."

Its two-member crew shares the workload. The first pilot flies the aircraft,
controls weapons and maneuvers the plane in a dogfight. The co-pilot employs
BVR air-to-air and air-to-ground guided weapons in long-range engagements,
sweeps the arena for enemy craft or missiles and performs as
command-and-control in group missions.

Some of the plane's systems are products of the French Thales Airborne
Systems company. Moscow's contract with Tehran for the sale of the Su-30MKM
must therefore be cleared with Paris.

There is no decision in Jerusalem about asking Paris to withhold its consent
to a deal which would substantially upgrade the long-range air assault
capabilities of the Islamic Republic whose leaders want to wipe Israel off
the map. However, President Nicolas Sarkozy is in mid-momentum of a
diplomatic drive in the Arab and Muslim world and unlikely to be receptive
to an Israeli approach. The only chance of aborting the Russian sale would
be to route the approach through Washington