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Russia ‘to supply Iran with advanced satellite’ that could track Israeli bases

The Washington Post says the system involves a high-resolution camera that would 'greatly enhance Iran’s spying capabilities' across the Middle East
A handout picture provided by Iran's Defence Ministry on 1 February 2021 shows the launch of Iran's newest satellite-carrying rocket, called Zuljanah, at an undisclosed location (AFP)

Russia is due to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that will enable the Islamic Republic to track potential military targets in the Middle East, according to the Washington Post.

The US newspaper on Thursday cited current and former US and Middle Eastern officials briefed on the plan, which would involve the delivery of Russian-made Kanopus-V satellite to Tehran. 

The system would be equipped with a camera that would “greatly enhance Iran’s spying capabilities”, the paper said. 

'This capability will allow Iran to maintain an accurate target bank, and to update that target bank within a few hours,'

- Middle Eastern official

Targets could include Gulf oil refineries, Israeli military bases and Iraqi barracks that house US troops, the officials said, explaining that the launch could happen within months.

The report comes days before US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet in Geneva and as Tehran and Washington continue to be engaged in indirect diplomacy to revive a 2015 deal designed to curb Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for easing economic sanctions.

While the Kanopus-V is marketed for civilian use, leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have made several trips to Russia since 2018 to help negotiate the agreement, the Post said.

Russian experts travelled to Iran this spring to help train crews who would operate the satellite from a newly built facility near Karaj, west of Tehran, it added.

The satellite would feature Russian hardware, the report said, "including a camera with a resolution of 1.2 meters - a significant improvement over Iran’s current capabilities.”

The Revolutionary Guard said in April 2020 that they had successfully launched the country's first military satellite into orbit, prompting then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to call for Tehran to be held accountable because he believed the action defied a UN Security Council resolution.

“It’s not the best in the world, but it’s high-resolution and very good for military aims,” a Middle Eastern official familiar with the satellite’s hardware package told the Post. “This capability will allow Iran to maintain an accurate target bank, and to update that target bank within a few hours” every day.

The official added that Tehran could share the satellite imagery with pro-Iranian militia groups that have been linked to repeated attacks on Iraqi military bases that are home to US troops.