A version of this article first appeared on Arab News
According to the latest reports, the Iranian regime is increasing its efforts to illegally supply weapons to terrorist groups and its proxies, specifically the Houthis in Yemen, as well as many other militias in Syria and Iraq.
When it comes to smuggling and supplying the Houthis with weapons, Tehran is engaged in four major categories: First is the supply, sale or transfer of short-range ballistic missiles (known as Borkan-2H ). Second is the supply of field storage tanks, which are utilized for liquid bipropellant oxidizers and developing ballistic missiles. Third is supplying unmanned aerial vehicles (such as Ababil-T and Qasef-1). Fourth is the provision of ballistic missile technology to the militias.
These acts are in violation of two UN resolutions: 2216, which imposes an arms embargo on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and 2231, which bans the Islamic Republic from transferring weapons and advancing its ballistic missile program in specific instances.
Intriguingly, even the annual report of the United Nations conclusively revealed that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is in non-compliance with paragraph 14 of resolution 2216 (2015).” It added: “The panel has now identified strong indicators of the supply of arms-related material manufactured in, or emanating from, the Islamic Republic of Iran subsequent to the establishment of the targeted arms embargo on April 14, 2015, particularly in the area of short-range ballistic missile technology and unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Despite such findings, the UN has not yet taken any concrete measures to punish the Iranian regime. One of the reasons for this is the veto power that Russia holds in the Security Council. Russia recently vetoed a resolution that would have simply applied pressure to Iran over the transfer of weapons to Yemen. Therefore it is unlikely the UN will be capable of action as long as Russia supports the Iranian regime.
Since such a global institution has failed to hold the Iranian regime to account for its crystal clear violations, the solution to this problem is dependent on employing the power of regional organizations and coalitions. In fact, in some cases, a united regional front can be much more effective in establishing peace and halting destabilization in the region than the international organizations.
This is where a coalition of several Arab states, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, could play a major role. There are several gradual steps that Arab states can take. First is to impose targeted sanctions aimed at holding the Iranian regime accountable based on the findings of the UN over Tehran’s smuggling of weapons. Arab states can impose sanctions on specific entities that the UN has found to be involved in supplying and transferring weapons to Tehran’s proxies. One should remember that Arab states in the Gulf and other nations in the region endure the direct and indirect consequences of Iran’s smuggling of weapons and destabilizing behavior.
Secondly, the Arab states can impose sanctions on those entities and individuals that the United States has already sanctioned for violations of UN resolutions and international laws. Many of these entities and individuals are affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Third, a coalition of Arab states can utilize their economic power to counter the Iranian regime. Regional economic sanctions can have an impact on the regime’s trade and revenues.
By taking these steps, Arab states are simply following international law, implementing the legal framework, responding to the UN’s findings and imposing penalties on the Iranian regime. These are the penalties the UN wants to impose itself, but it has so far failed due to Russia’s veto power.
It is worth noting that these actions would also send a robust message to European countries, and Russia and China too. These global actors will be more inclined to pressure the Iranian regime over its illicit weapons activities if they see that other countries in the region are united and already imposing penalties and pressuring Tehran through economic and political frameworks.
Waiting for the international community to take action and stop the Iranian regime’s smuggling of weapons would be futile. In addition, Tehran simply disregards global condemnations or UN reports indicating that it is violating international laws or resolutions.
One of the inevitable repercussions of waiting for international institutions or global powers to take action and stop the Iranian regime is to witness Tehran’s increasing influence, power and further destabilization of the region. The Arab states can unite and play a critical role in stopping the Iranian regime’s illicit smuggling of weapons. When a united Arab front leads in confronting Iran, the EU, Russia and China would find it extremely difficult not to join them.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh