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Satellite photos suggest Iran air defense radar struck in Isfahan during apparent Israeli attack

JERUSALEM (AP) — Satellite photos taken Monday suggest an apparent Israeli retaliatory strike targeting the central Iranian city of Isfahan struck a radar system for a Russian-made air defense battery, contradicting Tehran officials’ repeated denials of any damage caused by the assault.

The strike on an S-300 radar, in what appears to have been a very limited strike by the Israelis, would represent far more damage than the Israeli strike. the massive drone and missile attack launched by Iran against Israel on April 13. This is perhaps the reason why Iranian officials, until Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tried to rule out any discussion of the real consequences of the attack on Iranian soil.

Analysts say Iran and Israel, regional rivals locked in a shadow war for years, are now trying to ease tensions following a series of escalating attacks between them. the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip still rages and ignites the region as a whole. But a strike against the most advanced air defense system that Iran owns and uses to protect its nuclear sites sends a message, experts say.

“This strike shows that Israel has the capability to penetrate Iran’s air defense systems,” said Nicole Grajewski, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment’s nuclear policy program who has written an upcoming book on Russia and Iran. “The precision was quite remarkable.”

Satellite images taken by Planet Labs PBC Monday morning near the Isfahan airport and dual-use air base, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Tehran, showed a nearby area that served as a deployment point of the air defense system. Scorch marks are found around what analysts including Chris Biggers, a former government imaging consultant, previously identified as a “flip cover” radar system used for the S-300.

Less detailed satellite images taken after Friday showed similar scorch marks around the area, although it was unclear what exactly was at the site. Biggers said other components of the missile system appeared to have been removed from the site, even though they provided defensive cover. Iranian underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.

“This is a powerful statement, considering the system, location and how they use it,” Biggers wrote.

On Friday, air defenses opened fire and Iran grounded commercial flights across much of the country. Afterward, officials sought to downplay the attack, trying to describe it as simply a series of small drones flying through the sky.

“What happened (…) was not a strike,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in an interview with NBC News. “They looked more like toys our kids play with, not drones.”

However, in the aftermath of the attack, the Iraqis discovered what appeared to be remnants of surface-to-air missiles south of Baghdad. This, coupled with an alleged Israeli strike on a radar station in Syria on the same day, suggests that Israeli warplanes flew over Syria into Iraq and then fired so-called “stand-off missiles” at Iran for the attack on Isfahan. Smaller, shorter-range drones may also have been launched – Israel may have launched sabotage attacks and other missions inside Iran.

The spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Nasser Kanaani, nevertheless reiterated Tehran’s denial on Monday.

“The relevant authorities announced that this harassment attack did not cause any damage and that the Iranian defensive system fulfilled its duty,” Kanaani told reporters at a press briefing. “Therefore, in our opinion, this issue does not merit discussion.”

The S-300s and their delayed delivery to Iran show the challenge Tehran faces in bringing advanced foreign-made weapons systems into the country. Russia and Iran initially reached an $800 million deal in 2007, but Moscow suspended their delivery three years later due to strong objections from the United States and Israel.

After Iran reached a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, Russia unblocked the deal and reportedly gave Iran four sets of an export variant of the S-300.

Relations between Iran and Russia have deepened in recent years. Moscow relies heavily on Iran’s Shahed bomb-carrying drones to target sites across Ukraine as part of its war against the country. These same drones participated in the Islamic Republic’s attack on Israel.

Tehran has meanwhile made repeated comments in recent years about its attempt to obtain Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia to upgrade its decades-old fighter fleet. In September, a Russian-made YAK-130 combat training aircraft entered service in Iran. This model can be used to train Su-35 pilots.

Russia now has the S-400, but the S-300, which has a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and the ability to track and strike multiple targets simultaneously, remains one of the world’s leading air defense weapons the most powerful in the world. world. Batteries can be used to shoot down missiles as well as aircraft.

Iran likely needs Russian help to repair the damaged radar — and will seek new weapons over time, Grajewski said.

“Iran constantly wants new weapons from Russia – to try to show that it is not so isolated,” she said.

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