North Korea, Iran and the Houthi rebels, Iran’s proxies in Yemen, have launched several ballistic missiles since the US warned Pyongyang and Tehran that their production of such arsenals endangered peace and stability. The two countries have many things in common: Flouting international law, threatening world stability and endangering maritime security in the Pacific, the Gulf and the Red Sea. Launching missiles was a signal that they can reach their adversaries at any time.
With Donald Trump as president, America’s tone on the Iranian nuclear deal has changed. In turn, the Iranians wanted to convey to the new US president and his administration that they claim the right to establish their ballistic arsenal and other military technologies with the help of their traditional ally North Korea, which has helped Iran since the 1980s, when it supplied Scud missile technology. The missile launches by Iran and North Korea are viewed by their neighbors Japan, South Korea and the Arab Gulf states as belligerent and aggressive acts that could fuel not only a regional war but an international one, as Tehran and Pyongyang are backed by Moscow and Beijing.
Iran and North Korea are confronting the US in the Gulf and in the Korean Peninsula, challenging the US Navy and violating international law by producing weapons that would destabilize both the Pacific and the Gulf. The Americans are not only monitoring Iranian and North Korean military activities, but are also imposing sanctions on both countries to deprive them of the technologies they require to produce weapons that endanger peace and stability.
To add salt to the wound, the Iranians are even able to test the weapons they produce on real targets: They supply arms to the Houthi rebels, who use them against the Arab alliance fighting to restore the legitimate government in Yemen.
Iran and North Korea have a long history of military cooperation and technology exchanges, so none of this is a surprise. They have maintained a relatively consistent partnership since the 1980s.
Provocative rocket tests by Iran and North Korea are fueling concerns about the true intentions of the two rogue regimes.
The two countries have strong ties in spite of ideological and religious contradictions, because what really unites them is opposition to US foreign policy. Tehran and Pyongyang believe that they have to be in one ditch together, or the Americans will take revenge on them independently. They act as one state against any American expansionist policy in the Gulf or the Pacific. The North Korea-Iran alliance is unannounced, but if either country were attacked, the other would retaliate. Russia and China are involved because they are the only countries that can affect the external policies of Tehran and Pyongyang.
With Iraq out of the picture, the US considers Iran and North Korea to be the last remaining members of the Axis of Evil. Washington says their missile launches at the end of July flouted a UN Security Council resolution because the technology is designed to be able to carry a nuclear payload.
The US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions against Tehran illustrated deep American concerns about Iran’s missile testing and other actions, and the US would continue to counter Iran’s ballistic missile program — including the most recent “provocative space launch.”
In addition, Washington has suspected Pyongyang of conducting a secret program since 1990s to reprocess plutonium for the production of nuclear weapons. This justifies the fear of Washington and its allies of North Korean production of ballistic missiles. The same applies to Iran.
Moreover, the nuclear deal reached with Iran does not cover Iran’s highly sophisticated ballistic missile program. The Obama administration made a strategic decision to exclude it from negotiations because the issue was too thorny and Obama wanted to reach a deal.
Iran has conducted several ballistic missile tests since the nuclear deal went into effect. It now possesses medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching anywhere in the Middle East, including Israel, and south-eastern Europe.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). She can be reached on Twitter @politblogme