Now that those sanctions are expected to be suspended in the coming weeks and months as the Iran nuclear agreement is implemented, some prospective economic partners are eager to clear their accounts so that they can move ahead with collaborative development projects and new trade agreements with the would-be nuclear threshold state.
India is high on the list of these prospective partners, not only because it is Iran’s second largest Asian oil buyer after China, but also because it is competing with regional rival Pakistan for joint development projects including ports and pipelines, which could sever to expand each nation’s global influence and possibly give it an economic edge over the other country.
Some governments and businesses are being more cautious than others in expanding their economic relations or delivering money to the Islamic Republic without upfront assurances. In some cases this is certainly attributable at least in part to pressure from Western critics of the nuclear agreement, who fear that Iran is an untrustworthy negotiating and business partner, and can be expected to deliver a significant portion of its new earnings and imports to hardline elements of the Iranian government, as well as foreign terrorist proxies.
Even before the nuclear agreement was completed, Iran took the change in relations with the world community as license to expand its military capabilities through contracts with sympathetic nations. Chief among these is Russia, which has already completed a long-delayed sale of an advanced weapons system the transfer of which was delayed by the sanctions regime. Tehran and Moscow followed this up with discussions regarding subsequent deliveries of weapons and equipment which could, for instance, modernize the currently outmoded Iranian air force.
The UN resolution that governs the nuclear agreement includes provisions insisting that Tehran not pursue any further expansion of its ballistic missile capabilities at least until the deal has run its course. But Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have made it clear that they have no intention of abiding by those provisions.
Consequently, Iran’s relationship with Russia presents a potentially imminent threat of dramatic growth in Iran’s military capabilities. And evidence of the expansion of this relationship continues to accumulate. Most recently it was reported on Monday that Iran was in talks to purchase 21 billion dollars’ worth of aircraft and satellite equipment from Russia. There is little doubt that many of these components could have military applications up to and including applications to an Iranian military weapons program, which the government in Tehran will be essentially free to pursue after the nuclear agreement expires in 15 to 20 years.
In addition to leaving matters this open ended upon its expiration, the agreement provides for Iran to receive the money that is already allowing it to budget for these grand expenditures in partnership with fellow anti-Western powers. Estimates as to the amount of initial sanctions relief run up to 150 billion dollars, and even higher once relief to specific individuals and businesses is factored in.
Opponents of the deal in the US government have brought much attention to the possibility of this relief leading to much greater support for terrorist groups and the globally intrusive Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This surely accounts for much of the public opposition to the agreement. As Iowa Republican Representative David Young pointed out in an editorial on Monday, one recently poll by the Pew Research Center found a margin of two to one for that opposition.
Young also pointed out that he and his fellow Republicans, along with some Democrats, are still engaged in efforts to undermine the deal and thus interrupt the negative effects that they expect to result from it. These include not just an expansion of wealth, but an expansion of influence. And both of these are tied to the regime’s relations with Russia and other Asian partners.
Analysts and commentators have issued a variety of warnings about the possible tightening of alliances between Iran and other anti-Western powers, which could even result in a multi-party Asian bloc collaborating against Western interests. This danger was highlighted anew on Monday by the Mideast Times when it reported that Iran, Russia, Syria, and Iraq had all agreed to establish an intelligence committee in Baghdad in order to share information initially focusing on the conflicts in Iraq and Syria but presumably extending to further areas of collaboration later on.
The emerging deals between Iran and Russia already highlight weapons and military capabilities as one potential area of collaboration. But analysts have found a variety of evidence for other areas. Case in point is the observed parallel rise in the number and sophistication of cyber espionage and cyber terrorism attacks coming from would-be Asian bloc countries including Iran, Russia, and China.
This escalation appears to be still in progress, as was pointed out by IranWire on Monday when it detailed the phishing attacks that have recently been observed as originating in Iran and specifically targeting political dissidents and human rights activists around the world. If relations between Iran and its prospective partners continue to expand in the wake of the nuclear agreement and associated sanctions relief, collaboration may develop in these attacks as well as to existing foreign policy overlap in Syria and elsewhere.