Iran threatens its neighbours: What confrontation schemes does Washington offer?
    Expert opinions on Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  20 May 2023 - 12:45

    Samir Ibrahimov

    The United States is seeing growing signs that Russia and Iran are expanding an unprecedented defence partnership that will help Moscow prolong its war in Ukraine and also pose a threat to Iran's neighbours, US National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said.

    As part of the cooperation, Iran is providing Russia with attack drones and has already delivered more than 400 since August 2022, Kirby said.

    "It's about a growing defence relationship that strengthens Russia and allows Iran to stockpile its military hardware and pose a greater threat to its neighbours," Kirby told reporters.

    Drones are the main military aid that Iran provides to Russia. In addition, the United States will announce additional examples of increased military cooperation between Russia and Iran, Kirby added. According to him, Washington will take actions that will be a reaction to military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow. Various measures of pressure are possible, including sanctions.

    The question is, does the US actually have such instruments of pressure that would be able to stop the supply of weapons from Iran to Russia, which is then used against Ukraine? How might they look? And what exactly could Kirby mean when he said this growing military cooperation poses a big threat to Iran's neighbours? Azerbaijan is one of them, and its relations with Iran cannot be called cloudless.

    Foreign observers shared their opinions on these issues with Caliber.Az.

    Ukrainian security expert and military analyst at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation Taras Zhovtenko noted that the United States has long been trying to resist the strengthening of Iran's positions in the region, because, firstly, it endangers the security of one of Washington's main Middle Eastern allies - Israel, and, secondly, it potentially strengthens the position of China, which quite often uses the current regime in Tehran as a proxy tool for promoting its interests and influencing key processes in the Middle East.

    “China is playing a game here that the Kremlin is also trying to copy: to artificially create crisis situations using its proxy allies in order to 'heroically' resolve them in the future, offering mechanisms and solutions that are in line with its own national interests. Given these features, Washington has several effective tools to oppose the attempts to strengthen cooperation between Iran and Russia.

    The first is the strength factor. Here the US relies on combining its own military presence in the region with the active position of its allies, primarily Israel. It is Israel that has the operational-tactical capabilities to directly strike Iranian military and military-industrial facilities without fear of a direct military response from Tehran since the stakes are too high. In the event of Iran's strategic failure after such a military operation, it risks finding itself in the same situation as the current Russian regime has driven itself into,” Zhovtenko believes.

    According to him, recently Washington has also activated relevant contacts with Azerbaijan, thus strengthening the circle of regional allies, whose joint potential will become a regional deterrent for Iran.

    “The second is the indirect impact on Iran's trading partners. In view of the imposed anti-Russian sanctions that limit the capabilities of the military-industrial complex of the Russian Federation, the regime of restrictions will one way or another extend both to the allies of the Putin regime [such as Iran] and to the countries that are trade partners of such allies.

    Under the current conditions, Iran is of interest to Russia primarily as a country that has had a successful experience of circumventing international sanctions for many years. Now that Russia has become the undisputed champion in the imposed international sanctions, this experience and the relevant connections of Tehran are of particular value to Moscow.

    However, such opportunities for Iran, firstly, are not unlimited in themselves, and secondly, given the unprecedented situation with the military aggression of Russia against Ukraine, the sanctions regime, including secondary sanctions, is more a matter of time than any hesitation.

    If we create sufficiently harsh prospects for Tehran to lose most of the mechanisms for gaining access to technologies, that are closed to it, from a strategic perspective this will jeopardize the national interests of Iran itself, which the ayatollahs are unlikely to be able to ignore so easily,” he added.

    “And the third is the strategic influence on China. China, trying to use Iran as a regional proxy tool to achieve its own goals, can become a ‘lifeline’ for both Tehran and Moscow. However, Beijing will do this only insofar as it will allow it to defend its own national interests - trying to stand on par with the world leader - the United States. If Washington is able to offer Beijing mechanisms for balancing interests, in view of which the value of Iran as a proxy ally of the People’s Republic will be levelled, this will weaken support for the Iranian regime from China.

    One way or another, even Washington’s military and political support for Ukraine in the war against Russian invaders also indirectly affects this situation, weakening the Russian regime, which China is also successfully turning into its proxy,” the Ukrainian analyst said.

    Israeli expert and professor of political science at Ariel University in Samaria and Bar-Ilan University Ze'ev Khanin recalls that Iran and Russia, whose partnership is already approaching the level of a strategic union in many respects, despite international sanctions, find ways to implement mutual supplies.

    “Unmanned aerial vehicles, propulsion equipment and other resources that can be used for military purposes are coming from Iran to Russia. In addition, from Iran to the Russian Federation through various intermediaries, under the guise of dual-use or civilian goods, there are materials in which the Russian military-industrial complex is in acute shortage - various kinds of microcircuits and other electronic equipment necessary for the production of weapons and ammunition.

    In turn, Russia supplies [or intends to do so in the foreseeable future] air defence systems, military aviation, etc. to Iran. And also, according to some information, technologies that can serve to further improve the Iranian nuclear program which was officially declared as pursuing civilian goals [energy, medicine, scientific research], but de facto played a significant role in the already completed transformation of Iran into a country located on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons,” the Israeli pundit notes.

    According to him, the usual scheme to counter this works by putting pressure on intermediary companies, which is not always effective. Even if we are talking about multinational companies, which, it would seem, should think twice whether it makes sense for them to make money on deliveries between Iran and Russia - because if they are caught by the hand, they risk losing the American and European markets for their products and fall under sanctions of the Western banks.

    “Nevertheless, the number of entities willing to take risks for the sake of considerable income is not decreasing, also because it is not easy to trace such schemes. The international community periodically introduces certain mechanisms to suppress such practices. For example, the G7 countries agreed at the end of February 2023 to coordinate the application of sanctions against rogue states, but their success remains limited. Some hopes are pinned on a new meeting of this body in Hiroshima, where it is supposed to develop tougher schemes and sanctions for companies and ‘neutral’ countries that act as intermediaries for arms supplies. However, there is no guarantee that the options proposed there will solve the problem in principle.

    One reason for such scepticism is the ability of Russia and Iran to use the services of their strategic regional partners. For Russia, for example, Belarus is such a country, for Iran it is Armenia, in respect of which Tehran acts as a ‘declared guarantor of security’, in a situation where the former main guarantor, Russia, shifts the main focus of attention and resources to the Ukrainian front.

    In a sense, Armenia is in the most advantageous position: it is part of the Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran axis, and, according to informed sources, is essentially a hub for Iranian supplies to the Russian Federation - but, unlike Belarus, is not under sanctions. And what's more, it can afford to demonstrate a desire for rapprochement with the countries of the West, and count on receiving material and diplomatic support from them,” Khanin said.

    He also noted that the situation becomes even more complicated, given the willingness of some European countries to play a more active role in this scenario.

    “For example, France, which almost openly sided with Yerevan in its military conflict with Azerbaijan. A new stage in this policy - and a new challenge for Baku - can be considered the readiness of Paris to supply the Armenian Armed Forces with a package of lethal weapons - from which the US and EU countries have refrained for a long time. Western weapons, technologies and know-how supplied to Yerevan may also be at the disposal of Russia, which will allow it to optimise the methodology and tools for combating similar weapons supplied by NATO countries to the armed forces of Ukraine.

    And, finally, the same weapons and knowledge about them supplied to Armenia can find another address - Iran, which will clearly not fail to use the opportunities that open up in this regard to realise its geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus and the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily in Syria. Which, in turn, increases, respectively, the Iranian threat to the security of Azerbaijan and Israel, two countries in a growing strategic partnership.

    It is very difficult to stop these threats and no one gives a 100 per cent guarantee. But everything depends on the will of the international community, and it is possible to diplomatically, politically and, most importantly, financially and economically influence certain countries or entities, private companies, which in the end will have to decide which part of the world is more convenient for them to be friends with. If attempts to stop such transfers fail, this can be a very serious challenge for Azerbaijan, but on the other hand, it has not only opponents but also friends,” Ze'ev Khanin concluded.


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