In a wholly predictable move, Iran’s parliament has voted overwhelmingly (240 out of 244 MPs present and out of the 290 total) to increase spending on its elite Revolutionary Guards and its ballistic missile programme.
The extra funding – $520 million according to reports – was voted in direct response to the new US sanctions law recently signed by President Trump, which as well as imposing further sanctions on North Korea and Russia, also imposes additional sanctions on Iran as well.
Of the three countries recently targeted by the US Congress for further sanctions – Iran, Russia and North Korea – it is Iran which in my opinion has the greatest right to feel aggrieved. Though Russia has taken no action that would justify the latest sanctions, the US has come to think of Russia as its global adversary, whilst North Korea is openly defying not just the US but the UN Security Council with its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme.
Iran by contrast in 2015 reached an agreement with the Obama administration and the international community whereby it agreed to certain limits on its nuclear programme in return for a lifting of sanctions.
Iran must have expected – and was given every reason to expect – that this would in time lead to a normalisation of its relations with the US and the West.
Instead Iran has watched in horror as its relations with the US since then have moved not towards normalisation but in the diametrically opposite direction, with the Trump administration claiming that Iran is a sponsor of Islamic terrorism and is destabilising the Middle East, whilst aligning the US with Israel and Saudi Arabia, in a de facto alliance obviously targeted at Iran.
This is despite the fact that Iran has done nothing since the nuclear agreement which it was not doing before, or which it is prohibited from doing because of the nuclear agreement.
Now, with the latest US sanctions law, Iran – which is universally admitted to be complying with the nuclear agreement – sees more sanctions being imposed on it, even as the US has failed to lift some of the sanctions it had imposed previously, and which Iran supposed would be lifted.
It should be said that the latest US sanctions on Iran – which basically target certain individuals and companies in Iran, and which attempt to block arms to and by Iran – are pinpricks.
The arms blockade on Iran the US is now trying to impose is especially absurd since the only countries which have shown any interest in selling sophisticated arms to Iran are Russia and North Korea, whose arms companies the US is already sanctioning, and which has no reason therefore not to sell arms to Iran.
Unsurprisingly the Russians have reacted to the sanctions – both those imposed on Iran and those imposed on themselves – by offering to step up their arms sales to Iran. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin – the Russian official who supervises Russia’s arms industries – recently visited Iran, where he supposedly offered the Iranians SU-27 and MiG-35 fighters (the Iranians supposedly said no because they want SU-35s and SU-30s instead).
Needless to say if North Korea were ever to offer to sell its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology to Iran – as it now has every incentive to do – the development of Iran’s ballistic missiles and – conceivably at some point – nuclear weapons would also accelerate rapidly.
Now Iran has reacted to the US sanctions law by doing more of precisely the things the US says it objects to. Specifically the Iranian parliamentary vote increases funding on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – the agency Iran uses to support the Syrian army and Hezbollah, the two organisations which currently represent the biggest challenge to Israel – and its ballistic missiles, which potentially have both Israel and Saudi Arabia within their reach.
Israel and Saudi will no doubt cite this as evidence of Iranian “aggression” even as it is US actions – ie. the latest sanctions law – driven at least in part by Israeli and Saudi demands for strong US action against Iran – which have provoked it. On past experience the Israelis and the Saudis will now demand more action from the US to “counter” this Iranian move, either by deploying the US deploying ballistic missile interceptors to the Gulf, or conceivably by stepping up attacks on Iran itself.
The result is that yet another region of the world is becoming an area of confrontation.
As I write this the US finds itself locked in confrontation in the northern Pacific with a nuclear armed North Korea. This is a crisis to which everyone admits the US has no “good” answer, and which is becoming more and more dangerous and intractable by the day.
Moreover it is a crisis which even friends of the US are now starting to admit the US has to a large extent itself brought about, as the result of its relentless pursuit of its regime change “democracy promotion” policy, which quite naturally and entirely predictably came to be seen as a threat in Pyongyang.
In light of this it seems incredible that the US should make exactly the same mistake all over again, this time with Iran. Nonetheless that it seems is what the US has decided to do.
It seems that the US has learnt nothing from its North Korean debacle, and is drifting towards a very similar confrontation in the Gulf with Iran.
The Gulf region and the Middle East are far less stable than the north Pacific, and any crisis there similar to the North Korean crisis will be far more dangerous. Yet that is the situation which because of thoughtless US policies we may in time come to face.