An international conventional arms embargo on Iran, imposed 13 years ago by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), was officially ended on 18 October 2020. Iran announced that the UN conventional arms embargo imposed on the country in 2007 got expired. The embargo barred Iran from purchasing conventional arms, including tanks, Naval vessels and fighter jets from foreign suppliers. Iran has been under an array of crippling US-led sanctions since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. To make up for its military shortcomings and in the absence of a reliable supplier, Tehran has built up its own military industry over the past decades.
This embargo ends as part of Resolution 2231 of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, giving Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme. Though the United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, President Trump called it “the worst deal ever”. In mid-August, the US introduced a resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo, which was resoundingly rejected by the UNSC. Only the Dominican Republic voted in favour of the resolution, while 11 members of the 15-member body, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, together known as the E3, abstained. Russia and China opposed the extension.
The 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 neighbouring countries, directly and through organisations 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 destabilising activities in the region and ceases to provide weapons to terrorist and sectarian organisation.”
The EU and the UK are to maintain a separate arms embargo on Iran despite the UN one’s lifting. The reason E3 rejected to impose a snapback of all UN sanctions on Iran, fearing Tehran would pull out altogether from the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA), the official name for the 2015 deal. The three European powers believe the JCPOA is still holding Iran back from becoming a military nuclear power, the deal’s primary purpose.
Iran took this issue, and they have been vocal for years. The Iranian foreign minister described the day as momentous and put the event in a diplomatic as much as a military context. “Today’s normalisation of Iran’s defence cooperation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region,” said Javad Zarif.
Many opportunities have opened for Iran with the lifting of the embargo in developing their military and some positive force in the economy. Iran was once US ally before the 1979 revolution. At that time, the US-supplied their different strategic weapons to Iran. Since the 1970’s Iran has been using US Phantom-4, A-5 Jet fighters and different types of old Versions of US missiles, they also procured some Russian MiG-29, but those are in an awful condition.
During this period, Iran invested in domestic military industries, and they have developed significant numbers of missiles in the inventory. They have developed indigenous HESA Kowsar 4th generation fighter jet through a design based on US A-5 which is obsolete. Recently Iran unveiled the two new domestically developed Cruise missiles on National Defence Industry Day. They are named after top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed outside Baghdad’s international airport in a US strike in January. Iran is believed to have developed the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the region.
Defence experts predict that instead of buying large numbers of tanks or prohibitively expensive fighter jets, Iran is more likely to purchase small numbers of advanced weapons systems and attempt to transfer the technology domestically as arms embargo is no more. Moscow seems to be the probable supplier of arms to Tehran. Iran already showed their interest in procuring S-400 air defence system, SU-30 fighters, YAK-130 trainer and T-90 Tanks. But Russia is wary about the stability of the region. Supplying strategic arms to Tehran may destabilise the middle east again, and Moscow may fall into unprecedented diplomatic tension with their allies in the Gulf.
China could be another option for Iran, but growing US-China rivalry made China more sensitive about its image in the eyes of the international actors, meaning that it could “refrain” from selling controversial arms sales to Tehran as a “responsible great power”.
Abolishment of arms embargo was the first part of the play, but it will not be easy for Iran to accumulate huge strategic arms. US, Israel and Europeans will try to minimise the amount of procurement at any means. Iran’s poor economy is also another barrier for Iran. Though Iran cares more about its perceived legal right to buy arms than how many new weapon systems it will actually buy. Venezuela has already shown its interest in buying arms from Iran. In late August, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said it would be a “good idea” to consider purchasing missiles from Iran after rival Colombia said Maduro was looking into this plan.
But The US already warned It was prepared “to use its domestic authorities to sanctions any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran, as well as those who provide technical training, financial support and services, and other assistance related to these arms“. However, the U.N. arms embargoes did not stop Iran from sending weapons ranging from assault rifles to ballistic missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. While Tehran denies arming the Houthis, Western governments and weapons experts repeatedly have linked Iranian arms to the rebels.
Experts believe that the Trump administration exaggerates about the consequences of lifting the arms embargo” to provoke Iran to quit the JCPOA before the US presidential election, the anonymous Tehran political analyst believed that the current European disagreement with Washington on extending the Iranian arms embargo was designed to keep Tehran in the half-dead nuclear agreement. In recent months, provocations on both sides have slowed as US presidential election took place. President-elect Joe Biden has said he’s willing to offer Iran “a credible path back to diplomacy” if Tehran returns to “strict compliance” with the deal. So, we can say it will bring a positive move under Biden Administration. In the meantime top Iranian Nuclear scientist has assassinated by Israeli agents reported Iran’s state media.
Once the embargo is lifted, USA, Israel, and Europe will all be waiting for a single event or planning to set up a plot against Iran to catch it red-handed for supporting a spurious group reimpose a fresh and yet more inclusive arms embargo against it. So, the game has just started.