Even Rouhani and his cabinet ministers have contributed to the ongoing bellicosity, however. One recent example, arguably, is his suggestion last week that Tehran might be willing to consider releasing three American citizens held prisoner in Iran, but only after the US first releases 19 Iranians imprisoned for sanctions violations.
Many believe that the apparent inconsistency in Rouhani’s remarks provides evidence the notion that his administration, which has been embraced by some Western leaders as moderate, is not actually sincere in its pursuit of rapprochement. This sentiment was expressed again on Monday in an editorial appearing in the Huffington Post. The article described Rouhani’s cooperative tone as a “short term tactical shift in order to save the Islamic Republic” by securing sanctions relief, all without making serious ideological changes at the heart of the regime.
Still, Rouhani’s expressions of distrust or wariness toward the US fall short of the explicit threats routinely issuing from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and other regime hardliners. The Washington Free Beacon identified the latest example of this when it reported that IRGC aerospace force commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh declared over the weekend that US military bases in the Middle East are within range of Iranian missiles and that the Islamic Republic will continue to expand its conventional and ballistic missile arsenals regardless of UN resolutions demanding that it hold back on such development during the life of the nuclear agreement.
In fact, this latter threat has been issued by Rouhani himself, lending an even higher level of credence to the notion that Tehran is trying to build up its military capabilities specifically for the sake of confrontation with the West. Hajizadeh’s threats to this effect do not stand on their own by any means, and the Free Beacon points out that similar remarks were recently made by IRGC Navy Commander Ali Fadavi, who claimed that Iran was prepared for war with the US, which he described as “obedient and passive” in the face of Iranian military power.
For many critics of the Iranian regime, this rhetoric highlights the danger of Iran expanding its military capabilities with foreign assistance. And this danger has been evident since before the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, when Russia decided that an agreement would allow it to carry on with a long-delayed sale of advanced missile systems to the Islamic Republic.
On Monday, Tehran claimed that the delivery of that S-300 system was now officially underway, according to the Times of Israel. Recently, Tehran also intimated that this deliver could set the stage for other advanced weapons transfers, as Iran and Russia have been engaged in high-level talks about both economic and military cooperation.
The S-300 missile defense system could make any Israeli attack on Iran or its nuclear infrastructure more difficult. And what’s more, Iran is simultaneously taking offensive measures against the Jewish state, also with foreign help. Russia and Iran have both dramatically expanded their role in Syria in recent days and as a consequence of this Hezbollah has reportedly been outfitted with new weapons systems in its presumably permanent posts inside Syria, where many of the weapons are trained on Israel. The Times of Israel notes that the S-300 itself could end up in Hezbollah’s hands, thus further diminishing Tel Aviv’s supremacy in the air.
The expansion that has already taken place in the Iranian arms trade has reportedly not been challenged very much by the Obama administration in the US. Indeed, the American president quickly downplayed the significance of the S-300 sale, saying that it was surprising that Russia had delayed it as long as it had. Of course, other elements of the US government prefer a much more aggressive stance on these issues, and they are certainly disappointed by Obama’s relative lack of response.
These critics can be expected to be chagrined by the latest news on this front. Reuters reported on Monday that over the past year the US has been enforcing arms embargoes on Iran to a lesser extent than in previous years. The article is quick to point out that the observed difference is only one of enforcement. There is no indication that Iran has slowed its attempts violate those embargoes since the nuclear negotiations began. This further supports the idea that rapprochement is largely one-sided and that the US has been willing to look the other way on unchanged Iranian behavior.
Such willingness to look the other way with regard to weapons could have an impact on other topics of American policy in the Middle East which some US lawmakers feel that the president has similarly neglected. For instance, the threat of more advanced weapons entering into Syria and Hezbollah is not only a threat to Israel but also to broader US interests in the region.
President Obama has expressed willingness to work with Iran and Russia on developing a political solution to the crisis in Syria, but he has also indicated that the US still believes the Assad regime must be deposed. Iran, by contrast, has only strengthened its commitment to Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule. Meanwhile, Iranian and Russian forces appear to be targeting pro-democratic rebels against the Assad regime, who have received little support from the West.
In these circumstances, new Iranian weapons systems could seriously endanger these rebels. And on Monday, Newsweek reported that those rebels had issued an appeal for a regional alliance to push back against Tehran and Moscow’s coordination in the region. Such calls arguably reflect a lack of confidence in American leadership, as was the case early this year when Saudi Arabia spearheaded the formation of an Arab coalition to fight back against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Gulf News reported on Monday that Yemeni forces had recently retaken a strategically significant island from the Houthi, thus providing new indications that a local fighting force could be victorious over Iran in general, at least under the current situation of Tehran’s armaments.