Addressing the UN Security Council in June, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned diplomats that failing to renew the arms embargo against Iran would enable the ayatollahs to purchase Russian-made fighters capable of striking targets within a 2,000-mile radius — including Israel — as well as allowing the Islamic regime to upgrade and expand its fleet of attack submarines. (Image source: US State Department)
There is mounting concern in Israel at the prospect of the United Nations arms embargo against Iran expiring in October, thereby giving Tehran the opportunity to acquire a new range of lethal weapons.
Under the terms of UN Resolution 2231, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo against Iran as part of the controversial nuclear deal negotiated by former US President Barack Obama.
The resolution is due to expire on October 18, and senior security officials in Israel are now expressing concern that, because of opposition from China and Russia, it will not be renewed. Beijing and Moscow, which have the authority to veto Security Council resolutions, have backed Tehran in its stand-off with the Trump administration over the nuclear deal.
“If the embargo is not renewed, this will allow Iran to import and export arms with impunity,” a senior Israeli official, who asked not to be named, told me in a recent interview. “They are already buying and selling arms on the black market, but ending the arms embargo will allow them to do so officially.”
The Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already experienced an upsurge in tensions with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon this month after a team of Hezbollah terrorists tried to attack Israeli positions in northern Israel.
Israeli security officials believe the attack was launched in retaliation for the killing of a senior Hezbollah fighter, Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, who is said to have died in an Israeli air strike against an Iranian military position in Syria on July 20.
Israeli security officials are concerned that if Iran is allowed greater access to global arms sales, it will be encouraged to carry out further attacks against Israeli targets. This has prompted Mr Netanyahu to mount a major diplomatic offensive aimed at putting pressure on the UN to renew the arms embargo when it comes up for renewal in October.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made no secret of his desire to take full advantage of the relaxation of the arms embargo when it comes into effect.
Speaking at the end of last year, the Iranian leader was reported to have told the state’s TV channel, “When the embargo…is lifted next year we can easily buy and sell weapons… This is one of those important impacts of this (nuclear) agreement.”
Israeli concerns about Tehran’s plans to exploit the ending of the arms embargo are certainly being taken seriously by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Addressing the UN Security Council in June, Mr Pompeo warned diplomats that failing to renew the embargo would enable the ayatollahs to rebuild their military strength.
Mr Pompeo said Iran would be free to purchase Russian-made fighters capable of striking targets within a 2,000-mile radius — including Israel — as well as allowing the Islamic regime to upgrade and expand its fleet of attack submarines. In addition, Iran’s ability to make new arms purchases would enable Tehran to continue its support for proxies in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as enabling it to fuel conflicts from Venezuela to Syria, and to the far reaches of Afghanistan.
In a blunt message to the Security Council, Mr Pompeo declared that diplomats had an important choice to make. “Stand for international peace and security, as the United Nations’ founders intended, or let the arms embargo on the Islamic Republic of Iran expire, betraying the UN’s mission and its finest deals, which we have all pledged to uphold.”
Mr Pompeo is now seeking to persuade Washington’s allies in Europe to support an extension of the embargo, warning that China, which has recently agreed to a trade deal with Iran said to be worth $400 billion over 25 years, would sell new weapons systems to Iran if the embargo is not extended. Speaking in London earlier this month, Mr Pompeo warned, “The work between Iran and the Chinese Communist Party may well commence rapidly and robustly on Oct. 19th if we’re not successful at extending the UN arms embargo.”
The good news is that, even if the Russians and Chinese insist on blocking an extension of the arms embargo, Washington is working to ensure that measures remain in place to prevent Iran from rebuilding its weapons arsenal.
One proposal under consideration by the Trump administration is to argue that, as a signatory to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Washington has the right to exercise a Security Council provision to continue with the embargo, a move that would go a long way to preventing the ayatollahs from expanding their deadly weapons arsenal.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph‘s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.