Iran is violating a U.N. Security Council-mandated embargo on the export and import of missiles that is due to expire in October, Israeli observers of the Islamic Republic tell JNS.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, passed in 2015 to endorse the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—better known as the Iranian nuclear deal—placed restrictions banning Iran from buying and selling ballistic-missile-related components.
Iran maintains a large arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles, which today carry conventional warheads and can be converted to carry nuclear warheads. It also exports missiles, rockets and drones to terrorist proxies in the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.
After Oct. 18, 2023, Tehran will no longer face bans on activities supporting its missile program. A separate U.N. arms embargo on Iran, barring it from purchasing weapons such as fighter jets and tanks, expired in October 2020.
The United States maintains its own sanctions on Iranian weapons transactions.
“One must state honestly that Iran is already today violating the [U.N.] embargo, since it exports to its proxies weapons that certainly transgress the restrictions placed on it in terms of types of weapons, ranges and the like,” Danny (Dennis) Citrinowicz, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said.
Citrinowicz, who served for 25 years in a variety of command positions in the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Directorate, including as the head of the Iran Branch in the Research and Analysis Division, pointed to the projectile arsenals of Hezbollah and the Houthis as evidence of blatant violations of the embargo by Iran.
“Anyone who deals with Iran knows this, but everyone ‘turns their gaze away’ since these are not official transactions between states,” he said.
Michael Segall, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs who specializes in Iranian military strategy and tactics, noted that the embargo’s expiration will lift restrictions on “Iran’s research, development and production of ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
“In this regard, the U.N. is to lift the ban on Iran’s import and export of missile-related technology, including missiles and drones with a range of 300 kilometers [186 miles] or more,” he said.
“The lifting of the embargo on Iran’s missiles could exacerbate the existing threats, both for Iran’s neighbors in the Gulf region and the Middle East and for global security,” Segall warned. It would also provide legitimacy for Tehran to supply missiles and drones to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine, he added.
In addition, said Segall, “it could provide some economic benefits to the devastated economy of Iran and tighten the Iranian regime’s grip on its population.”
Citrinowicz said the use of Iranian weaponry in Ukraine has made it “particularly attractive” to potential buyers, adding that this would likely lead Iran to try to export more of its weapons in order to fill up its treasury and boost its political and military foothold in several countries.
“There are more than a few countries in trouble spots such as Africa and Latin America, which cannot purchase advanced weapons from Western countries. For them, Iranian weapons will be very attractive,” said Citrinowicz. “This poses a real political challenge.”
Palestinian terror organizations
Segall said that key threats include the increased risk of missile proliferation to countries and non-state actors. This includes the possible acquisition of precision-guided missiles by Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations, which could lead to “further escalation of conflicts and could trigger and accelerate the arms race in the region and the spread of weapons technology.”
In addition, he said, lifting the embargo will enable Iran to acquire more advanced missile technology from other countries—primarily Russia and North Korea—potentially increasing the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities and regional influence. Furthermore, he said, “Iran will be able to speed up the research and development of delivery platforms for nuclear warheads.”
As Tehran’s missile capabilities increase, so too does the risk of missile strikes, whether as the result of a miscalculation, intentional attacks, or accidental firing against Israeli or United States forces in the Middle East, either directly by Iran or by countries in the region that it armed, or by one of the Iranian terrorist proxies, Segall assessed.
“Our problem is that there is no political way to extend the embargo in the Security Council,” Citrinowicz said. “Russia certainly will not support that, and neither will China. Hence, the struggle moves from the political-international frameworks to a broad political campaign in which Israel and the U.S. will have to activate a carrot-and-stick influence campaign to prevent other countries from buying cheap Iranian weapons, some of which is high quality,” he said.
Citrinowicz added that Iranian weapons could begin to compete with Russian defense exports. Some already view Iranian air defense systems, for example, as being imitations of Russian systems. However, Moscow and Tehran could also work together to export weapons, as their initiative to set up a joint drone production factory in Russia may hint.
“In any case, after the embargo is lifted, Iran’s involvement in Ukraine and its major assistance to the Russian campaign might only grow further,” he said.
In the Middle East, Segall said, in light of Iran’s well-established track record of meddling in regional conflicts and support for non-state actors including pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Lebanon, plus the Houthis in Yemen, the “lifting the embargo on missiles could give Iran more resources to support these groups and further destabilize the area.”
Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates may view the embargo lifting “as a threat to their national security and respond with their own military buildup. This could lead to a dangerous arms race in the region,” he added.
The end of the missile embargo will provide a boost to the Iranian-led radical axis, Segall argued, likely making it more difficult for countries such as Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states to negotiate and maintain normalization agreements with Israel.
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