There has been a fair amount of concern expressed about Iran being at liberty now to improve its weaponry. It is correct that the UN embargo imposed on Iran’s purchase of weapons has expired. What will Iran do? There is also concern about whether Trump’s sanctions are having the desired effect and that more will surely get Iran to toss out its regime.
The Trump administration had demanded that the UN embargo stay in place; but it faced a humiliating defeat at the UN by America’s allies and adversaries. Thus, the embargo expired on October 18, but the restrictions on Iran’s development of ICBMS with nuclear capacity remain in place for three more years.
Yes, Iran could now buy and sell weapons at will. Russia and China have expressed interest. Iran may pursue some opportunities as with Venezuela. However, a full-fledged effort to buy and sell weapons is not likely. Iran’s annual military spending has been only 1/5th of Saudi Arabia’s; and, Iran will not be able to catch up any time soon. American sanctions are so deleterious to Iran that few are going to take the risk of buying and selling weapons with Iran. Russia and China have stronger interests elsewhere.
Plus, Iran does not need to enter into this market. Their military strategy does not depend on traditional weaponry. They have put an emphasis on asymmetrical weapons and even more on their continued strong relationships with armed militia groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria along with the Houthis in Yemen. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are the real power here and not Iran’s seriously degraded regular military. They are not about to buy a bunch of warplanes or tanks. They operate through drones and proxies as mentioned above. They will focus on producing their own better cruise missiles and maybe enhancing their diesel subs.
Iran does not have a history of huge arms deals since the Shah fell. They may make some weapons purchases but not enough to change the strategic picture in their region. Pompeo has actually been ridiculed for saying that new Iranian warplanes would mean that “Europe and Asia could be in Iran’s crosshairs.” The map he attached to his tweet displayed ranges that would amount to one-way suicide missions. Just not going to happen.
Well, how are Trump’s sanctions playing out? They have effectively strangled Iran’s economy. They have made it real hard for Iran to keep its domestic consumers satisfied. Plus, even long before the sanctions, their economy was a wreck. Iran just never was much of a likely market for goods, tourism and investments then and certainly not now.
However, the regime has only tightened its grip. The opposition is fragmented and leaderless. The regime has not shown any signs of collapse and is not likely to. Further, Iran has responded to the American actions by developing their nuclear capacity. Trump’s sanctions have had the exact opposite effect of what they were intended to do. It was a touch of hubris to think they could do otherwise. President Trump has no support from any of the other signatories of the Iran deal. Without that, he cannot succeed. He has backed himself into a corner that it is hard to get out of honorably.
Well, what about carrying out a military attack on Iran to really cripple Iran? Invasion would be no more successful than have been our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, Hezbollah and the Houthis have made it crystal clear they will come to Iran’s defense. Hezbollah is formidable with its thousands of missiles and its combat experience. The U.S. would face a much wider war. Iran has the capabilities to shut down the Strait of Hormuz for a couple of months.
All in all then, Iran is not going to be a significant threat to the U.S. and its position in the Middle East. It is not now and it won’t be. I predicted back in early January that Trump’s approach to Iran would fail; and, it has.