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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The End of the Arms Embargo on Iran

Filed under: Iran

The End of the Arms Embargo on Iran
The Chinese J-20 air superiority, multi-purpose stealth fighter aircraft. On Iran’s shopping list?1
  • Iran will try to purchase advanced weapons, mainly from Russia and China, including anti-aircraft systems and the Chinese J-20 stealth aircraft.
  • At the same time, Iran will market its domestically-manufactured weapons, including drones and missiles. “Iran’s arms exports will exceed its imports,” Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami vowed on October 19, 2020.2 One customer for Iranian arms are the Houthis of Yemen, who already deploy an array of Iranian weapons from rifles to drones to ballistic missiles.3 Other potential clients are Venezuela and Lebanon.4
  • The economic situation in Iran and the election results in the United States will affect the speed of procurement.

The termination of the arms embargo on Iran on October 18, 2020, as detailed by the Parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will allow Iran to purchase and export arms without restrictions, despite Iran’s blatant and open violations of all its obligations under the agreement.  At the same time, the United States believes that following its request for an automatic renewal of all UN sanctions against Iran (“snapback”), the sanctions were renewed as early as September 20, 2020, and, therefore, the ban on arms trade with Iran continued. Iran, Russia, China, and the UN Security Council decided otherwise. The United States also threatens to apply sanctions against those who violate the ban and, in recent days, has increased the pressure on the Iranian economy through a series of additional sanctions.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on October 18, 2020, that the United States would impose sanctions on any individual or entity that aids Iran’s weapons program. “Any nation that sells weapons to Iran is impoverishing the Iranian people by enabling the regime’s diversion of funds away from the people and toward the regime’s military aims,” Pompeo stated.5

On October 19, 2020, the U.S. State Department announced it was imposing sanctions on six Chinese companies for dealing with the Islamic Republic’s Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which transports “proliferation-sensitive items intended for Iran’s ballistic missile and military programs.”6

The Significance of the Termination of the Ban

  1. Iran is likely to quickly pursue advanced weapons, particularly from Russia and China, with an emphasis on air defense systems, such as the S-400. These weapons would improve the defense of Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran will also seek components that will enhance the performance of its missiles that are expected to carry nuclear weapons in the future. However, there is little chance that these deals will be realized soon, due to Iran’s economic difficulties and American pressure.
  2. Once again, the Europeans are exposing their weakness. They are not interested in a more powerful Iran, especially if it helps advance its nuclear program, and they maintain their own embargo on selling arms to Iran until 2023. However, despite the Iranian violations, the Europeans prefer a confrontation with the Trump administration over halting Iran.
  3. The future of Iran’s rearmament depends largely on the outcome of the U.S. election. If Trump is elected, he will likely tighten the pressure and make it difficult to implement the procurement plans. Biden, on the other hand, may seek to return to the nuclear deal, including the removal of the arms embargo, perhaps with minor changes to it.

Rouhani: “We Will Buy and Sell to Anyone We Want”

Speaking on October 14, 2020, Iranian President Rouhani said: “I congratulate our people on lifting the cruel arms embargo on us. After ten years of repression, we will have no such restrictions. We have been fighting against the United States for four years, and now in desperation, they are knocking on many doors in their attempt to preserve the embargo.”7

“Starting from Sunday,” Rouhani continued, “we can sell weapons to anyone we want and buy weapons from anyone we want. For those who are wondering what the government has done for the people of Iran, this is an unprecedented achievement for the government’s diligence, our hope and long patience.”  

A Venezuelan drone
A Venezuelan drone based on Iran’s Mohajer drone8

The spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvand, described the removal of arms embargoes against Tehran as “a brilliant and glorious moment for the country’s diplomats.”9  

Why was the lifting of the embargo such an Iranian “diplomatic victory?”

Seyed Abbas Araghchi, deputy foreign minister for political affairs, explained that U.S. Secretary of State Kerry insisted on a 10-year embargo during the JCPOA negotiations. “Due to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s furious tone of voice and his shouts, [U.S. negotiator Wendy] Sherman asked her colleagues to leave the room and leave the foreign ministers alone….Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a ‘stormy meeting’ with the foreign ministers and convinced them to agree to a five-year timeframe.”10

Iran has already expressed its desire to purchase stealthy Chinese J-20 fighter jets for its outdated air force and the Russian anti-aircraft system S-400 that could make it challenging to carry out airstrikes against nuclear targets in the country. Unverified press reports claim that Iran might try to buy from North Korea, through China, advanced long-range missiles of 4,500 KM (Hwasong-12) or even longer-range missiles.11

At the same time, Iran clarified that it is not going to rush to purchase new weapons as it has a broad military industry.

The absurdity of the lifting of the arms embargo lies in the fact that it was adopted as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1747 in 2007 with Russian and Chinese support as a means to force Iran to give up enrichment of uranium, and it is now lifted just when Iran has accumulated large amounts of uranium enriched to 4.5% and operates various facilities in its nuclear program, including the deep underground enrichment facility at Fordow that at the time was still unknown.

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