Iran announced recently that it had carried out yet another missile test towards the end of April, its third since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement (JCPOA) was signed. According to Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi, Iran launched a high precision ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres and an alleged accuracy of eight metres. General Abdollahi did not name the missile that was tested or provide further details but claimed that the headquarters of the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces has allocated ten percent of defence budget to research projects aimed at strengthening defence power.
A previous FDI paper noted and examined Iran’s announcement on 8 March that it had carried out a ballistic missile test to demonstrate its ‘full readiness to confront all kinds of threats against the Revolution, establishment and territorial integrity.’ A US spokesman stated at the time that there was every possibility that the test had violated the terms of the JCPOA. This statement aside, however, there was little, if any, further reaction from the Obama Administration. In fact, Washington stated that a fresh missile test would not violate a July 2015 accord under which Iran has restricted its disputed nuclear programme and won relief from UN and Western financial sanctions in return.
This lack of remonstration will, no doubt, have strengthened Iran’s determination to carry out yet another test. Three types of reactions are emerging in response to it. The United States, Saudi Arabia and its Middle East allies and a few other countries have denounced the test, claiming that Iran has not conformed to the terms of the JCPOA. Russia, no doubt hoping to strengthen its influence in the Middle East and also to sell military technology to Iran, has stated that Iran has not broken any of the terms of the JCPOA. The third reaction, equally unsurprisingly, is that of Western Europe: total indifference to what those countries perceive as a problem of the US, no matter that Iran’s missiles are increasingly able to strike targets in the neighbouring countries of Eastern Europe.
To be clear, there is every indication that Iran has breached the terms of the JCPOA. Iran tested a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads in October and November, almost immediately after the JCPOA was signed, and launched two more missiles in March. This is clearly in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1929 (2010), which states in part, ‘Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities’. The JCPOA, furthermore, is unambiguous in its declaration that Iran will not undertake any ballistic missile tests ‘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.’
Iran, as is to be expected, dismisses these concerns that it is in breach of the UN resolutions or the JCPOA. The UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), however, is clear upon this point. It ‘calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.’ This, by itself, should be sufficient cause for Iran to cease its missile testing but it is encouraged by Russia, whose head of the ministry’s Department for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Weapons Control, Mikhail Ulyanov, informed the Interfax news agency, ‘We do not think these launches violate Resolution 2231, because the resolution does not ban the tests.’ His argument is predicated upon the fact that, ‘[a]s stated by the Iranians, the missiles they test are incapable of carrying nuclear warheads. No one has yet provided any evidence that this is untrue … so the question emerges, what violations we are talking about? No violations whatsoever.’ This argument is patently disingenuous. The argument, moreover, is shown to be a dangerous one in light of Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s statement that ‘[t]hose who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors.’ Russia, moreover, has its own goals in the Middle East: to increase its regional influence there, especially now that the Obama Administration has shown every sign of withdrawing its support of Saudi Arabia and relations between the two countries are at an all-time low, and to sell military technology to Tehran.
The Obama Administration is commonly seen to be searching for a legacy that it can show to be successful as it reaches the end of its two terms in office. It had hoped to find one in easing tensions with Iran. It has failed, however, in this endeavour. Not only has Iran taken full advantage of an administration in its final year in Washington, it has also endangered the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and created ill-will with Israel.
It has become very clear that the next President of the United States will have a difficult time in mending ties with those two countries and putting together the pieces of the US Middle East policy under the current government.