With more than 30,000 corona deaths and a severe economic crisis, Iranian President Hassan Ruhani doesn’t have much to celebrate right now.
He was all the more pleased to now be able to offer his fellow countrymen a major diplomatic success in the ongoing dispute with the archenemy US: on Sunday evening, the UN arms embargo against the Islamic Republic, which had existed since 2007, expired.
Washington had previously failed in an effort to extend the boycott. Now his country can buy weapons wherever it wants, Ruhani said shortly before the embargo ended.
Donald Trump and his administration would have done nothing but “rough tones”. Despite Tehran’s elation, there is unlikely to be another arms race in the Middle East for the time being.
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Suspecting that Iran was secretly trying to build an atomic bomb, the United Nations unanimously decided in the Security Council in 2007 forbade all member states to buy Iranian weapons. In June 2010, an explicit ban on the supply of heavy military equipment also came into effect. These were, for example, fighter planes and tanks.
The 2015 international nuclear agreement ended the arms boycott for Iran. The treaty provided for a reduction in international sanctions in exchange for Iran’s reluctance to carry out its nuclear program. This included the end of the arms embargo five years after the entry into force of the nuclear treaty on October 18, 2015.
US President Trump ended the nuclear deal with Tehran two years ago, calling for an extension of the … Photo: Ting Shen / XinHua Xinhua / dpa
The Trump administration criticized the nuclear deal as inadequate and withdrew from the deal two years ago. Since then, the US president has tried to force Iran to make further concessions with economic sanctions – but so far to no avail.
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The other international contracting parties to the nuclear deal – China, Germany, France, Britain and Russia – over the summer rejected the US request to extend the arms embargo indefinitely. The ending is therefore a “memorable day,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Sarif wrote on Twitter.
Until the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran was a good customer of the international arms industry. Since then, however, the Shia state of God has relied on the long life of the weapons it purchased at the time and on its own production, as many countries refused to supply the mullah regime with weapons even before the UN embargo. That is why American “Tomcat” fighter jets from the 1970s are still flying in Iran.
The Revolutionary Guards are among the overriding forces of power in Iran Photo: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters
However, with the support of some countries, such as North Korea, the domestic arms industry has made significant progress, especially with the missile program. The country’s opponents in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, as well as US bases, are within range of Iranian missiles.
After the end of the UN embargo, several reports indicate that the Islamic Republic is especially interested in modern Russian jet fighters and the S-400 air defense system to better protect itself against US or Israeli attacks.
Just a few days ago, Moscow showed an interest in expanding arms cooperation with Tehran. In principle, China is also available as a supplier to the Iranian armed forces. On the other hand, Iran will not be able to get weapons from Europe for the time being: the EU arms embargo will remain in effect until 2023.
Iran could earn the money it needs for a shopping tour abroad by exporting weapons, which is allowed again with immediate effect. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is considering buying Iranian missiles.
But it will not be easy for Tehran. The US is threatening all countries that are now negotiating arms deals with Iran with sanctions. Even more important than the threat is the US presidential election in two weeks.
For example, China is betting on improving its relationship with America following a possible victory of Trump’s challenger Joe Biden and will not jeopardize a fresh start in relations with the supply of some tanks to Iran. Relations with the great US power are also more important to Russia than arms deals with Tehran.
So Iran’s neighbors will not have to deal with an opponent who has grown stronger overnight. In the medium term, however, the end of the embargo in connection with the increase in the power of the Revolutionary Guards and other hardliners in the God of God could create greater tensions.
Especially after the Iranian presidential elections in 2021, the influence of the guard and the arch-conservative agitators could continue to grow. Modern foreign weapons in the hands of a more uncompromising regime would be a warning signal for the US, Israel and the Gulf states.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is one of the stated opponents of the mullahs Photo: Valery Sharifulin / imago / Itar Tass
The opponents of the mullahs
Some states have long viewed Iran’s drive for power in the region as an aggressive provocation, even an existential threat. This applies primarily to the Jewish state. No wonder Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration sided with Trump when it came to extending the UN arms embargo.
In Israel, Tehran’s threats across all party political borders are taken very seriously: Iran’s regime repeatedly announces the destruction of the “Zionist tumor.”
Jerusalem therefore explicitly refers to the mullahs’ missile program, but also to the fact that Iran supplies militant Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah with weapons. Israel tries again and again to stop both military attacks and secret service operations.
Iran is also a red rag for the rulers in the Gulf. Sunni Saudi Arabia in particular sees itself challenged as a major regional power. The rivalry with Tehran is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s main concern – not least because the mullahs’ pursuit of power is massively calling into question their claim to protect their own nation from attack.
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This becomes clear in the conflict in Yemen. For the heir apparent, Tehran is sure to supply the rebellious Houthis with weapons. They have managed to attack Saudi Arabia several times with missiles and drones. Iran could use its newfound freedom to arm the Houthis as an extended arm – to damage the desert monarchy and the reputation of the royal family.