The Iranian government is also stepping into this line of business, but with an important caveat: Its products involve hard-power capabilities.
Based on the latest intelligence reports, Iran is manufacturing advanced weapons in foreign nations including Syria and Lebanon, a claim denied by the prime minister of the latter country.
Tehran is more than likely planning to expand its weapons manufacturing to other countries as well. There is a widely held belief that Iran has weapons factories in Yemen too.
Some of the arms that Tehran is producing in Syria and Lebanon include precision-guided missiles, which are built using advanced technology to strike specific targets.
It has become crystal clear that Iran is in direct violation of UN Resolution 2231, which was adopted as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. The resolution stipulates that all states are to 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.” By directly setting up weapons factories in foreign nations, Iranian leaders are attempting to achieve several short-term and long-term objectives.
First of all, Tehran has been caught repeatedly smuggling weapons via the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Most recently, several Iranian ships carrying weapons to Yemen, specifically to be delivered to the Houthis, were intercepted.
Producing weapons in another country eliminates the risk of Iran facing international condemnation, or even losing its weapons, when it is caught smuggling them.
The second issue is linked to the cost. Iran is hemorrhaging billions of dollars on the Syrian regime to keep Bashar Assad in power. Since 2011, Tehran has been assisting Assad with weapons supplies. Since Iran would be violating the UN resolution by sending weapons to Syria, it has been covertly doing so through its commercial airplanes — which is an expensive exercise. It is much more cost effective for the Iranian leaders to directly produce weapons in Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa.
Third, the other major beneficiaries of Iran’s weapons are Shiite militia groups including Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, Hezbollah, and Syrian militia groups. Producing weapons in Syria, Lebanon or Yemen significantly strengthens the Shiite crescent and militias across the region, which act as Tehran’s proxies.
Allegations that Tehran has arms-manufacturing facilities in Arab nations offer further indication that the regime needs to be held to account by the international community.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
In addition, this can lure other militia or terrorist groups that are willing to serve Iran’s interests in exchange for weapons.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently pointed out that he would make sure that the peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, completes its mission of preventing Hezbollah’s arms stocks building up. He stated, “I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that UNIFIL fully meets its mandate.” But words are not sufficient. The UN needs to take concrete action against the main provider of these weapons: The Iranian government.
Fourth, it is worth noting that Iran sends intelligence, military, and training teams when it sets up weapons factories in other countries in order to facilitate the sale and use of these weapons. This will provide Iran with the opportunity to better influence and control the security, intelligence and political systems of a foreign nation.
Fifth, Iran’s foreign-based weapons factories give it advantageous military capability for waging wars or striking other nations through third countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq or Yemen. As a result, Iran’s ruling clerics would not need to be directly engaged in the war and jeopardize their hold on power; rather, they would exploit third parties to pit other nations against each other.
Sixth, Iran is literally creating a gigantic military presence in Syria and Lebanon, which would make it easier for Iranian leaders to totally occupy and take over Arab nations. This is part of Iran’s long-term hegemonic ambitions and pursuit of imperialistic pre-eminence in the region.
In closing, Iran is significantly extending its influence and expanding its reach in the Middle East by escalating the establishment of weapons-production facilities in foreign nations. The international community needs to hold the Iranian government to account for the further militarization, radicalization and intensifying of violence in the region, as well as for violating UN resolution 2231 and international law.
• 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.