Saudi Arabia is weighing buying an advanced Russian missile system to shore up its defences against a
potentially nuclear Iran, Gulf analysts and diplomats said.
They said Moscow and Riyadh are close to sealing a deal on a multi-billion-dollar weapons package that could include Russia's advanced S-400 missile defence system.
It is the newest version of the S-300 long-range surface to air missile system that Moscow has reportedly been in discussion for several years to sell to Iran, which denies Western charges of aiming to become a nuclear power.
But heavy Western and Israeli pressure and a possibly more lucrative deal with Riyadh have persuaded Moscow not to make that sale to Tehran, diplomats in the Gulf said on condition of anonymity.
"The Saudis would rather this weapon system not be sold to Iran or Syria," another possible buyer, said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
The S-400 missile defence system could be a part of a much larger deal with Russia that would signify an important diversification of Saudi arms purchasing from its main suppliers: the United States, Britain and France.
On August 29, Russia's Interfax news agency said a two-billion-dollar arms package for the Saudis could include up to 150 helicopters -- 30 Mi-35 attack helicopters and up to 120 Mi-17 transport helicopters -- more than 150 T-90S tanks, 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and "several dozen" air defence systems.
Contracts for the sale of the tanks and the helicopters "could be signed as soon as this year," an unnamed source told Interfax.