Owing to his being listed as a sponsor of global terrorism, United Nations resolutions bar Suleimani from international travel, and member states are expected to arrest him if he is found defying that ban. The US State Department confirmed this week that far from fulfilling this responsibility, Russia formally met with Suleimani, apparently to discuss mutual defense and regional strategy, as well as arms shipments from Russia to Iran.
The visit appears indicative of growing defiance of American and UN leadership by both Moscow and Tehran. It is as yet unclear what was communicated to the former by Kerry in his phone call on Thursday, or what further actions the Obama administration may take to confront such violations of international law.
Critics of the administration largely regard the US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran as having demonstrated weakness by giving away American leverage in the form of un-earned sanctions relief, and by providing a range of concessions in response to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s declared red lines.
Naturally, these critics regard Suleimani’s visit and other defiant moves by the Islamic Republic as being emboldened by this perceived weakness. On Thursday, Arutz Sheva provided another arguable example of this defiance when it reported that Iranian ground forces commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan had announced plans to conduct military exercises featuring long-range ballistic missiles.
Arutz Sheva indicates that this is in violation of annexes to the UN adoption of the nuclear agreement, which declares, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier.”
Tehran defends its missile tests and by arguing that they are unrelated to a nuclear weapons program, which the regime denies having. But international reports indicate that at least two missiles in Iran’s arsenal are capable of having a nuclear warhead, making them subject to the language of Annex B of UN Resolution 2231.
But regardless of specific violations, such long-range missile exercises are certain to be met with anger and anxiety by the US’s traditional allies in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is especially true in light of the Arab push-back over the course of the past several months, against Iranian interventions in various regional conflicts, including the Syrian Civil War, the fight against ISIL and smaller rebel groups in Iraq, and the Houthi ouster of President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi in Yemen.
An article published in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday details the recent deterioration in relations between Iran and Sudan, which the Sudanese government attributed to Iran’s efforts to push Shiite extremism on the local population. The article indicates that Sudan has taken an active role alongside Saudi Arabia in opposing Iran’s intervention in Yemen, and it places this development in context with Iran’s distinct contribution to the increase of sectarian strife in the Middle East.
While the Journal quotes one Sudanese politician as saying that Sudan’s alignment with the Gulf States is matter of strategic calculation and not principle, it does not dispute that the larger movement to oppose Iran has been motivated by fears of an aggressive and extremist Shiite influence originating in Tehran.
The notion that this pursuit of regional hegemony is ongoing, and that it is undiminished in spite of recent negotiations with the West, was given new evidence on Thursday when the Associated Press reported that five persons had been arrested in Bahrain for their alleged role in a bombing that killed two police officers and wounded six others last month. According to Bahraini chief of police Tariq al-Hassan, all five individuals have ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps or the Iran-sponsored Lebanese paramilitary Hezbollah.