US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday disclosed that Iran had recently test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying multiple warheads and able to reach most of the Middle East and parts of Europe. Pompeo stressed that Iran was, as such, in clear breach of UN Security Council resolution 2231.
After the US disclosure, Iran admitted to the test, saying that it would continue testing ballistic missiles, but denied that it was violating the resolution.
The ballistic missile test and Iran’s public admission have put the EU in a difficult spot, as it has been leading its reluctant membership to keep Iran’s nuclear deal, which is also governed by resolution 2231. The EU has taken extraordinary measures to safeguard the nuclear deal and shield Iran and European companies from US sanctions.
Resolution 2231 calls on Iran to refrain from “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The scrutiny regime imposed by this resolution, which was adopted in 2015, reinforces restrictions that had been imposed by the earlier resolution 1929, which the Security Council adopted in 2010.
Since the American disclosure of Iran’s breach, the UK and France — key European partners in the nuclear deal with Iran — expressed concern. On Monday, they condemned Iran’s missile testing, calling it a provocative action that contributes to destabilizing the area.
On Tuesday, France and Britain asked for a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Iran’s violation. However, that meeting was not expected to produce any results because of a potential veto from Russia, which is involved in developing Iran’s missile program and is keen to shield it from criticism.
What to do then about Iran’s missile program, given Tehran’s declared intention to continue developing and testing its missiles?
The UNSC may be deadlocked because of the potential Russian veto, thus making it difficult for the UN to deal with Iran’s defiance. The countries of the region, which are directly threatened by Iran’s missile program, need to bolster their own defenses against the growing threat of Iranian missile development.
Saudi Arabia has already been subjected to hundreds of Iranian-supplied short- and medium-range missiles launched by the Houthi militia from Yemen over the past three years. The technology used in those missiles, and more recently unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), is evolving. The recent test-firing of missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads increases the potential destruction that they could wreak. The possibility that those missiles and drones could carry nuclear warheads or others weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) should not be ruled out.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) last week organized a public conference in Riyadh to discuss Iranian threats. Military and strategic experts from the region stressed the need to bolster the GCC’s capabilities to meet the growing threats of Iran’s proliferation of ballistic missiles and drones, as well as WMDs carried by those devices.
The GCC takes into consideration not only the existing technologies that Iran and its proxies possess, but the potential for more sophisticated capabilities in the future, with the help of Russian, Chinese or North Korean experts. The recent launch represents an escalation and Iran declared last week that it will continue to develop its missile capabilities, aiming for longer range and more destructive weapons.
The GCC strategy, discussed at last week’s conference in Riyadh, is multi-pronged. Saudi Arabia’s missile defenses have demonstrated their capacity to withstand the attacks launched by the Houthis using Iranian-supplied missiles and drones. The Kingdom and its GCC partners are developing those defenses to withstand more sophisticated missiles that may be launched in large numbers simultaneously. The GCC and the US have also held discussions on building an integrated, GCC-wide ballistic missile defense network that provides such capabilities.
At the same time, the GCC is trying to deal diplomatically with ballistic missile proliferation in the Gulf. It has called on the UNSC to strengthen the oversight and inspection regime included in resolution 2231. All states, but especially UNSC permanent members, should refrain from helping Iran develop its missile program. The GCC has also offered Iran a way out of confrontation. The arms race that Iran has started is putting pressure on the region’s resources and diverting funds from development.
The GCC is also working with close allies, especially the US and UK, to deal with Iran’s threats. The US is bolstering its military presence in the region, which is already one of the most guarded in the world. The USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and accompanying war ships are scheduled to arrive in a few days. This armada will end an eight-month hiatus in the US military presence, and it demonstrates a renewed show of force against Iran. Similarly, the UK is bolstering its military footprint in the region, from Kuwait to Oman and other GCC countries.
The objective is to persuade Iran to sue for peace and ensure that it will have nothing to gain, in the long run, from military escalation.