Lifting Iran’s arms embargo a threat to regional stability

Lifting Iran’s arms embargo a threat to regional stability

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Iranian military personnel participate in the Velayat-90 exercise near the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran, December 30, 2011. (Reuters)

Iran’s leaders believe they scored a major political victory against the US, its allies and regional powers when the UN Security Council last week voted down a proposal to extend the 13-year-old arms embargo on Tehran, which is due to expire in October.

This means that, not only will the Iranian regime soon be allowed to buy weapons and advance its weapons manufacturing industry, but it will also be able to freely sell and export arms. This will undoubtedly have severe repercussions for regional security and stability, and could potentially trigger an arms race in the Middle East.

Iranian politicians and media outlets celebrated the outcome, with the headline of the Iranian newspaper Etemad reading: “US is defeated in home game: Attempts in New York to convince the UNSC member states fail.” The Iranian leaders appeared to know in advance that the US would not garner enough support, as Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif pointed out prior to the vote: “Not even five member states (China, Russia, France, the UK, Germany) would vote for US-drafted resolution.”

Britain, France and Germany, which abstained from the vote, and Russia and China, which vetoed the resolution, defended their decisions by either arguing that the lifting of the arms ban was part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or that such a move was important in order to preserve the nuclear deal.

However, Iran is violating all restrictions of the nuclear agreement, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The ruling mullahs increased their stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 1.1 tons in February 2019 to 1.73 tons as of May 20 this year. This is about eight times more than what the regime was allowed to maintain under the misbegotten JCPOA. Additionally, the Iranian regime is still not allowing the IAEA to inspect its sites — a long-term problem that is now a “serious concern” for the international inspectors.

China and Russia likely voted against extending the embargo as they are interested in selling arms to Iran. This would boost their military cooperation with Tehran, increase their influence in the region, and empower an ally that stands against their main rival, the US. Iran and China are reported to be close to signing a 25-year strategic deal that has a military dimension. Iran’s armed forces held a joint naval exercise with Russia and China late last year.

Iran will likely step up its acquisition of advanced weaponry, such as Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighters, Yakovlev Yak-130 training aircraft, T-90 tanks, the S-400 air defense system, and the Bastion coastal defense system. It is also expected to seek to use Russian and Chinese military technology to manufacture more advanced submarines, missiles and warships. The Russians appear more than willing to help, as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in January that Moscow needs to “offer Iran an agreement on military cooperation and urgently sell the most modern weapons so that no one dares throw anything in the direction of Iran.”

While it is evident why Russia and China opposed the US resolution, it is mind-boggling that the European powers also did not support the move to extend the arms embargo, in spite of protests from several Arab states. The lifting of the embargo on the Iranian regime is inimical to the interests of Europe.

The six-country Gulf Cooperation Council submitted a plea to the UN Security Council to extend the Iranian arms embargo. The letter accurately stated that Iran has “not ceased or desisted from armed interventions in neighboring countries, directly and through organizations and movements armed and trained by Iran. As such, it is inappropriate to lift the restrictions on conventional weapons’ movement to and from Iran until it abandons its destabilizing activities in the region and ceases to provide weapons to terrorist and sectarian organizations.”

China and Russia likely voted against extending the embargo as they are interested in selling arms to Iran.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Iranian leaders are attempting to address the concerns of its neighbors with empty words. During a Cabinet meeting last week, President Hassan Rouhani insisted that “Iran’s defense and weapons power is in the interest of the entire region… Iran’s defense power is not a threat to your countries.” But Tehran’s arming of militia groups across the region has, for example, allowed the Houthis to launch missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, contradicting Rouhani’s statement. After one such Houthi attack, Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the Kayhan newspaper, who was appointed by Khamenei, wrote a report with the provocative headline: “Ansarullah fires missiles on Riyadh. Dubai will be next.” Earlier this year, Iran also threatened that it would attack Dubai if the US retaliated against its strikes on American bases in Iraq.

In short, the lifting of the arms embargo on the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism will further help the Iranian regime advance its military adventurism and arm terror and militia groups with advanced weapons. This is a dangerous threat to regional and global stability, and it will likely trigger a regional arms race.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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