Russia is preparing to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that will give Tehran an unprecedented ability to track potential military targets across the Middle East and beyond, according to current and former U.S. and Middle Eastern officials briefed on details of the arrangement.
The plan would deliver to the Iranians a Russian-made Kanopus-V satellite equipped with a high-resolution camera that would greatly enhance Iran’s spying capabilities, allowing continuous monitoring of facilities ranging from Persian Gulf oil refineries and Israeli military bases to Iraqi barracks that house U.S. troops, the officials said. The launch could happen within months, they said.
While the Kanopus-V is marketed for civilian use, Iranian military officials have been heavily involved in the acquisition, and leaders of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have made multiple trips to Russia since 2018 to help negotiate the terms of the agreement, the officials said. As recently as this spring, Russian experts traveled to Iran to help train ground crews that would operate the satellite from a newly built facility near the northern city of Karaj, the officials said.
Details of the agreement were described by a current and a former U.S. official as well as a senior Middle Eastern government official briefed on the sale. The three officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing sensitivities surrounding ongoing intelligence collection efforts. The Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow did not respond to an email request for comment.
The disclosures came as President Biden is preparing for his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The imminent launch of a Russian-made Iranian satellite could add to a long list of contentious issues that have strained relations between Moscow and Washington, including most notably recent Russian hacking operations and efforts to interfere with U.S. elections. Opponents of the U.S. reentering the nuclear accord with Iran are also likely to seize on the disclosure to argue against any engagement with Tehran that doesn’t address its military ambitions in the region.
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