In the middle of this October Iran will regain the legal right to rebuild its conventional weapon capability under terms of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) first agreed upon by the Obama Administration and subsequently rescinded by the Trump Administration. Nonetheless, the other members of the agreement still recognize the original terms. This means that the Tehran government will be enabled to use a broad array of non-nuclear weapons to coerce, control, or even invade neighboring countries. The term “conventional” can be interpreted to include ordnance and support elements of considerable capability, just so that it is not nuclear-related.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stated on Fox News recently that the United States could “handle” this new situation. Unfortunately, he didn’t expand on that statement. Effectively, the entire issue is operationally tied to Iran’s ability to make deals – usually financial. Iran never has had a problem with arranging such sensitive trade projects – overtly or covertly -in the past. This is, after all, a country famed for its commercial acumen going back all the way to the ancient Persian Empire. And no one has suggested they have lost their touch.
There are many devices used to obtain controlled – rare or even banned instruments and this includes weapons and other military-related hardware. The most obvious is the state-level arrangements whereby Iran, for example, would supply petroleum and related products to a country that needs oil but finds it too expensive. In return for the petroleum “gift,” Tehran would receive an agreed collection of conventional military hardware that the other country had received under any one of the numerous accords with developed countries seeking to gain favor with the particular Third World nation.
Military attachés keep their eye on such arrangements, but often there is little that can be done to stop it other than to bluster and threaten. This type of thing goes on even with non-banned products and now Iran will be able to arrange such matters more openly after October. This “barter” system can allow Iran to accumulate a broad range of conventional weapons. Straight financial arrangements, of course, can be made with the assistance of friendly officials. And this is to say nothing about simply obtaining Russian or Chinese ordnance!
Less developed nations have been supplied by politically friendly governments with military equipment that the poorer country cannot afford. The supply of weapons etc. thus becomes a “piggy bank” for the usually strong internal leadership and subsequently a source of illicit arms dealing. Iranian diplomatic missions do not miss opportunities like this if they have received instructions from Tehran. Again, it’s simply a system of supplying the “client” with what they want in exchange for the ordnance sought.
Obviously, the major nations of the East and West try hard to keep track of these activities and they use the information to their advantage – whatever that might be. Once again it is reasonable to assume somebody is making sizeable amounts of money during one or another phase of this “trade” operation. It’s not easy to stop such activities and an economy such as Iran with assets worldwide can work out a way to get their hands on the military products they need. After all, it’s just business, isn’t it? Or is it?
There’s no question that Secretary Pompeo well knows all these devices. So how does he plan to “handle” this? It’s not a rhetorical question. Obviously, the United States doesn’t want Iran to increase its military capability, but controls are lacking. As reported in Britain’s newspaper, The Guardian recently, Iran has tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since November 2019. This is in direct contravention of the JCPOA. In addition, Tehran has refused to answer questions posed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding three reported nuclear sites. “The stockpile” according to The Guardian, “puts Iran in reach of the amount needed to produce a nuclear weapon.”
The combination of a possible rebuilding of Iran’s conventional capability and an increased nuclear option not only makes Iran increasingly dangerous as an international player, but it also enhances its status in the eyes of various terrorist organizations it supports. All in all, this is not going to be an easily handled situation and not at all needed during the dangerous and tragic pandemic.