Iran’s smuggling of weapons and arms to militia groups or governments, some of which are designated as terrorist groups or state sponsors of terrorism, is rising. This is in direct violation of UN Resolution 2231 and a UN arms embargo. It is important to note that the UN Resolution 2231 is also endorsed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is commonly known as the Iran deal.
The intriguing issue is that Iran, particularly the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s state media outlets, used to keep Tehran’s direct or indirect transfer of weapons secret. However, this is not happening any more as Iran has become more emboldened and empowered to showcase its power.
In fact, Iranian leaders are increasingly boasting about how freely they are shipping weapons to other proxies or governments, and Iran’s Persian-language state media outlets, such as IRNA, are reporting on the issue.
For example, Iran’s export of arms to Hezbollah has become so obvious that the former US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, publically pointed out that Iran is violating the UN Resolution 2231 in its actions. Power stated: “We on the council need to come together to push Iran to effectively implement the binding provisions of Resolution 2231 — especially restrictions that ban Iran’s export of arms and related material.” She added in a Senate hearing that “anytime that we put sanctions forward we should follow through on those when there are violations.”
The nuclear deal also endorsed UN Resolution 2231, which prevents Iran from transferring arms directly or indirectly out of its territories without the approval of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Nevertheless, despite Iran’s public announcements of violating the UN Resolution 2231 and jeopardizing the JCPOA, there has been no legal action taken by the UNSC or other entity to hold Iran accountable. According to Resolution 2231, all states should “take the necessary measures to prevent, except as decided otherwise by the Security Council in advance on a case-by-case basis, the supply, sale, or transfer of arms or related materiel from Iran by their nationals or using their flag vessels or aircraft and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.”
Weapons to Yemen, Lebanon and Syria
Iran is utilizing various methods through sea, land, or commercial flights to smuggle weapons. Several of Iran’s arms ships carrying weapons to the Houthis have been intercepted. Iran is using the airline Mahan Air to smuggle weapons to Lebanon and Damascus as well, according to Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. Danon said: “The Iranian Al-Quds Force packs weapons, ammunition and missile technology to Hezbollah in suitcases and puts them on Mahan Air flights… These planes fly directly to the airport in Lebanon or Damascus and from there the weapons are transferred on the ground to Hezbollah.”
One critical issue is that Iran continues to view the nuclear deal as a green light to do what it desires militarily, to act the way it wishes ideologically, and to smuggle or export weapons to its proxies.
Tehran is frequently shipping weapons to governments or militia groups that are designated as terrorist organizations.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
More fundamentally, Iran is blatantly violating the UN arms embargo, which evolved in three phases under the UNSC members. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in December 2006 the UNSC “imposed a partial embargo on the export of technology related to nuclear weapon delivery systems to Iran, which includes certain technologies which can be used in conventional military applications. In March 2007 the UNSC added an embargo on arms exports from Iran. This was followed in June 2010 by a UN embargo on the export of most major conventional weapons to Iran. These UN restrictions on arms supplies to Iran remain in place.”
Thanks to Obama, one amendment was added to the JCPOA to ease the restrictions on Iran. The amendment allowed some arms supplies to Iran only and only if the UNSC’s approval was obtained. That means for each trade involving arms supplies, Iran needs to obtain a case-by-case approval from the UNSC. However, Iran has not sought any UNSC approval in any case that involved its weapons’ shipments or trades.
Iran’s politicians, across the political spectrum, are in favor of Iran exporting weapons to its proxies. The so-called moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has laid out his government’s official stance on this issue on the government’s presidential office website, explaining that “it is crucial for the government to reach self-reliance in (the) defense industry, and the government should commercialize its military industry in order to increase its revenues.” Rouhani emphasizes that his government should increase Iran’s military capabilities and do whatever it can to modernize it.
It is also crucial to point out that according to the JCPOA, Iran’s arms embargo will be totally lifted by October 2020 or even earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delivers a report indicating that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful: “These restrictions on arms-related transfers shall apply until the date five years after the JCPOA Adoption Day (Oct. 18, 2015) or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier.”
Iran is frequently violating UN Resolution 2231 by smuggling weapons to governments or militia groups which are designated as terrorist organizations.
Necessary measures need to be taken to prevent Iran from such illegal actions. If the Donald Trump administration maintains the JCPOA and does not take concrete actions against Iran’s violations, the arms embargo will be sooner or later lifted automatically. As a result, there would be no legal mechanism to pursue in order to hold Iran accountable. Russia and China would also not allow the re-imposition of the arms embargo on Iran.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.