The Regional Security Environment as the UN Iran Arms Embargo is Set to End

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


The US Department of State has announced that it will continue to enforce an arms embargo against Iran. The unilateral decision follows the US government’s failure to convince the rest of the UN Security Council to extend an existing embargo due to expire in October of this year. Arab regional dailies and commentators have expressed particular dismay that European countries abstained from the UN vote, especially given what they consider to be Iran’s destabilizing role in the region. While some regional commentators speculate regarding Iran’s next steps, others address Israeli and Turkish perspectives..

With France, Germany, and the UK opting to abstain, along with eight other countries, Saudi Gazette’s Abdulrhman Altrairi wonders how European leaders can stand idly by: “Despite the full awareness that Iran is the most dangerous country and a threat to global stability, even exceeding the level of danger posed by North Korea, the UN decision would encourage it to convert several Arab countries into failed states, and directly cause the influx of immigrants [into] Europe. It would liquidate opponents of the regime living in European territories, in addition to involving [itself] in more drug trafficking and money laundering. European ‘pragmatism’ transcended all these for the sake of serving their interests.”

Commenting on the UNSC decision, a recent Gulf News editorial points out that, instead of holding Iran accountable for sowing discord in the region, world powers are instead empowering it and in the process making the situation in the region even more volatile: “Regionally, Iran was to end its destabilizing actions and de-escalate tensions with its neighbors. Again, Tehran failed to live up to its commitments. Over the last five years, Iran intensified its interference in the internal affairs in several Arab states besides arming and training its proxy militias in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. These actions continued unabated while Iran was under an international arms embargo. Just imagine what Tehran will do now, when the UN lifts the arms embargo!”

That view is also shared by Majid Rafizadeh, who in an op-ed for the Baghdad Post, asserts that UNSC inaction will only lead to more destabilizing actions by Iran across the region. This also explains why “Iran’s leaders believe they scored a major political victory against the US, its allies and regional powers…. Iran will likely step up its acquisition of advanced weaponry, such as Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighters, Yakovlev Yak-130 training aircraft, T-90 tanks, the S-400 air defense system, and the Bastion coastal defense system…. In short, the lifting of the arms embargo on the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism will further help the Iranian regime advance its military adventurism and arm terror and militia groups with advanced weapons. This is a dangerous threat to regional and global stability, and it will likely trigger a regional arms race.”

It is precisely this history of meddling in the region and more broadly that, according to Arab News’ Mohammed Al-Sulami, has spurred Iran’s Arab neighbors to support the US call for renewing the arms embargo. In light of their failure to secure UNSC approval, it remains to be seen what other actions Saudi Arabia and its allies may take: “Arab countries have attempted to thwart Iran’s destructive regional behavior via diplomatic and political means, repeatedly warning of and clarifying the dangerous role it is playing, to no avail. Now, however, Iran has gone too far with its damaging and destabilizing practices, with Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, finding it imperative to take the necessary steps to confront these interventions…. The 1979 transformation in Iran was the spark that lit the fires of sectarianism and terror across the region. With help from other leaders and movements, the so-called Islamic Republic led the region down the dark path it is experiencing today.”

However, as Seth Frantzman suggested in last week’s op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Iran may not wait around to see what action, if any, its adversaries will take, raising in the process the possibility of an Iranian retaliatory strike against the US: “Iran is outraged by the US decision to try to impose ‘snapback’ sanctions. It has sought out support from China, and so far, that appears to be pushing back against the US plan to impose United Nations sanctions…. The usual Tehran response to US threats or actions is to strike at sea or by land…. Iran knows that it can strike at a time of its choosing. When it chooses to do so, against the US attempt to put in place snapback sanctions, it will have a large canvas on which to operate. It must only wonder if the US will act to deter it the way the US has in Iraq. It knows that US allies, such as Saudi Arabia, have not acted to deter it in the past, after the strike on Abqaiq.”

Hypotheticals aside, recent developments, including the warming of relations between Israel and the UAE, have altered significantly the security environment in the region, leading Arutz Sheva’s Doron Itzchakov to conclude that “Israel’s rapprochement with the Gulf state is raising concerns in Tehran for a number of reasons…. [T]he regime fears that an alliance comprising Israel, the Gulf states and other countries, supported by Washington and Riyadh, would be a serious roadblock in the path of Iran’s goal of regional hegemony. A multinational system of that kind would strengthen its constituent members not only on the security level but also on the economic, commercial and cultural levels—a worrisome prospect for Tehran. The prospect of such an alliance is particularly troubling to the regime at a time when its regional status is declining.”

While an Israeli-Arab front may present a formidable challenge to Iran’s strategic goals in the region, the perception of Turkey as a target of the same front may lead to unexpected outcomes. What seems to concern Turkey in particular, according to Daily Sabah’s Merve Şebnem Oruç, is this: “The UAE’s yearlong efforts to depict Turkey as a threat to the Arab world aim to make the Arab public believe that it needs a new ally in the region. Apparently, Abu Dhabi thinks that they reached their goal, taking their unilateral hostility toward Turkey a step further…. Pro-Israeli and UAE-funded media have almost had the same coverage, pumping fake news about the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Turkey and Qatar to block the winds of change, with Emirati media also accusing them of betraying Palestine, even though Abu Dhabi was the real betrayer.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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