While the US has not yet committed to sending weapons to the Ukrainian side of the conflict, the Russian Defense Ministry official warned that if it decided to do so, Moscow would likely “respond asymmetrically against Washington and its allies on other fronts.” As a specific example, he suggested that Russia might urge or support Iran in launching an attack against Saudi Arabia, with the goal of dramatically increasing world oil prices.
Relations between Iran and Russia have apparently grown increasingly close amidst world events in recent years. Both nations have supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War, and last month both defense ministries signed a memorandum of understanding expanding prospects for mutual access and military collaboration. China also has entered into such agreements with Iran and in September the two conducted joint naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.
These sorts of developments have stoked fears of a developing Asian bloc that might be capable of undermining Western interests through policies of mutual support among Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, and other traditionally anti-Western nations. Furthermore, such mutual support could increase the threat posed by each individual country as the various bloc members share military technology and insulate their national economies against foreign pressure, as in the form of the sanctions that have been credited with crippling Iran’s economy and bringing it to the nuclear negotiating table.
In 2010, international diplomatic pressure succeeded in halting the transfer of an advanced air defense system from Russia to Iran, over Iranian objections that the pre-arranged deal did not violate international sanctions because it had been made before those sanctions took effect. But the Missile Threat website reports that Iran’s ambassador to Russia recently declared that he expects the S-300 air defense system to finally be delivered to Iran in 2015, amidst growing Iran-Russia cooperation and mutual defiance of the West.
Meanwhile, an article in Wired points to the possibility that Asian bloc countries are sharing resources for another type of warfare: that which takes place online. The article references a recent NSA report that determined that Iran may have derived some of the software for its increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks from the presumably American and Israeli software that has been deployed against it in recent operations aimed primarily at sabotaging the nation’s nuclear program.
Wired points out, however, that some instances of the use of this derivative software have not been attributed to Iran. Notably, the attacks on Sony Pictures Studios were linked to North Korea and apparently motivated by the planned release of a film about a plan to assassinate the East Asian nation’s autocratic president. But some points of origin of those attacks were not inside of North Korea, leading to some speculation about Iranian collaboration on the operation. The Wired article arguably adds credibility to this by noting that the software used in such attacks is linked to software that could have been recovered directly by Iran.
But regardless of the level of trans-national cooperation involved, it is well understood that Iran’s cyber-espionage and cyber-terrorism capabilities have grown tremendously in recent years. Some Iranian officials are quick to boast that this is part of much broader technological advancement by the Islamic Republic. These claims cannot be taken at face value, as some assertions of military advancement have been questioned or falsified by independent analysts. But at the same time, some advancement is inevitable, and some of it is regarded by opponents of the regime as increasing the danger posed by Iran to the world.
Space Daily reported on Monday that Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan had pointed to Iran’s fourth satellite launch as an example of Iran’s progress in developing advanced technologies. It appears that some Israeli officials may have mistaken the satellite’s unlaunched rocket for a large ballistic missile. Even so, worries about such a missile are justifiable in light of the launch, which suggests advancements in rocket technology that could be used for weapons, including nuclear weapons.
Negotiations between Iran and six world powers over the former’s nuclear program have reportedly avoided all discussion about limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile stockpiles. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has specifically declared that any such limitations would be unacceptable to the Iranian side.
Advancements in Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, together with the apparent development of an anti-Western Asian bloc lead to further concerns that Iran may be willing and able to hand off some of that ballistic missile technology to North Korea, which has already developed a nuclear bomb but lacks highly sophisticated delivery systems.