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The end of the embargo opens up Iran to the arms market, albeit with obstacles

Pressure from the United States did not work and ends the embargo on the Ayatollahs' regime
A rocket launched from a Pantsir-S air defence system at the Ashuluk military base in southern Russia on 22 September 2020 during the "Caucasus-2020" military exercises bringing together troops from China, Iran, Pakistan and Myanmar

AFP/DIMITAR DILKOFF  -   A rocket launched from a Pantsir-S air defence system at the Ashuluk military base in southern Russia on 22 September 2020 during the "Caucasus-2020" military exercises bringing together troops from China, Iran, Pakistan and Myanmar

Iran will be able to buy and sell weapons from tomorrow thanks to the end of the international embargo, which the United States attempted to extend without success, but owing to several factors it is likely that purchases to modernise its arsenal will be limited.

The Iranian president, Hassan Rohani, this week congratulated the population on the lifting on 18 October of the "oppressive embargo" on conventional weapons imposed in 2007 by the UN Security Council and "despite four years of efforts by the United States" to prevent it.

UN Resolution 2231, which validated the 2015 nuclear agreement, set out the end of the embargo, but Washington claimed that it was dangerous for Iran to acquire weapons or that it could sell them to its allies in the Middle East region.

Pressure from the US did not bear fruit and on 14 August 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council rejected the proposal for the embargo to be extended indefinitely, which Iran regarded as a clear triumph.

"The Americans, both in terms of the economic and arms embargo on Iran, will face failure with determination", the influential Major General Yahia Rahim Safaví, military adviser to the supreme leader and former commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guard, told Efe.

Hasán Rohaní, presidente de Irán
AFP PHOTO/HO/IRANIAN PRESIDENCY - Iranian President Hassan Rohani
Self-sufficiency, but need for modernisation

Mr Safaví stressed that they have managed to have "the technological capacity and all the weapons and equipment to defend not only in Iranian territory but also to reach the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Caspian Sea".

Iran has had to develop its arms sector internally since the triumph of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, as it has always been subject to some kind of sanction or embargo since then.

In the 80s its military equipment suffered major losses during the war with Iraq and it was impossible to repair or replace it owing to the absence of US assistance and equipment, which formed the backbone of the armed forces of the Saharan era.

The local defence industry began to manufacture its own tanks, missiles, radars, ships, fighter planes and drones, among others, although in many cases they are obsolete and are copies or new versions of designs from other countries.

The defence minister, Amir Hatamí, recently acknowledged that the local Kowsar fighter plane has "similarities in appearance with the F-5", production of which began in the USA in the 60s, but pointed out that it has been "completely designed and updated in a native manner".

It is evident, however, that Iran's armed forces wish and need to modernise with external support and, although they have not yet announced which countries they will begin to trade with, everything points to their traditional allies.

Russia and China on the radar

"Iran can meet its strategic needs through the countries with which it interacts, such as Russia and China; although it is self-sufficient in many cases and is an exporter (of arms) in itself," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last month.

The head of diplomacy stressed that Iran will not go to the European market because it has never been a customer since 1979: "We are not going to force them to sell us arms now as we do not need their weapons," he said.

Moscow has already shown itself to be open to considering military technical cooperation with Iran after the end of the embargo, but has not specified possible agreements in view of the uncertain situation.

On 21 September the US government announced sanctions against the Iranian defence ministry: "No matter who you are, if you violate the embargo on Iran, you will face sanctions", warned the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Un cohete lanza desde un sistema de misiles S-400 a la base militar de Ashuluk, en el sur de Rusia, el 22 de septiembre de 2020 durante los ejercicios militares "Cáucaso-2020" que reúnen a las tropas de China, Irán, Pakistán y Myanmar
AFP/DIMITAR DILKOFF - A rocket launches from an S-400 missile system to the Ashuluk military base in southern Russia on 22 September 2020 during the "Caucasus-2020" military exercises bringing together the troops of China, Iran, Pakistan and Myanmar

Yusef Molaí, an analyst and professor of international law at the University of Teheran, explained to Efe that Iran "does not need to carry out any arms trade as a matter of urgency" and is aware that the US will intervene in any possible transaction.

In his opinion, the main European producers, such as France and the United Kingdom, "will not oppose the US" and Russia will place its interests in the balance: "In my opinion, there is no special programme to buy arms from Russia in the short term, although there may be some limited cooperation", he added.

Focus on exports

Because of the US sanctions on the Iranian defence ministry, but also on its entire banking system, transactions are complicated, as many companies in the sector will not want to risk being punished by Washington.

In addition, the serious economic crisis the Islamic Republic is experiencing is going to make it difficult to spend on weapons, and the initial aim may therefore be to export its defence equipment, as several generals have stated.

Hatami stated that Iran is one of the few countries that can manufacture over 90% of its military needs locally and stands out in the missile area, a source of concern to Washington.

"We will surely be able to export more military equipment than we need to import (...) We will use our legal right to sell weapons to trade with our allies," he said.

This option is of particular concern to the US owing to its military presence in the region, which has already been challenged by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, where rocket attacks against its interests have been frequent over the past year.

Other groups that have Teheran's support, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas and the Hutus of Yemen, also pose a threat to Washington's regional allies: Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Regional instability

As Major General Safaví warned in his statements to Efe, "no stable security will be formed in the West Asian region without the presence of Iran".

"The Americans, faced with the request of the nations of the region and the increased power acquired by China and Russia, are obliged to change their strategy and abandon West Asia", the military adviser and former commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guard assured.

The departure of US troops from the region has been Iran's motto since a series of security incidents in the Persian Gulf were recorded in 2019 and since Washington killed the powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleiman in a bombing in Baghdad.

Safaví added that Washington "cannot be a threat" to Tehran and warned: "All US forces and bases established in the vicinity of Iran are a target for us".