As ISIS loses its advantage on the ground, Iran with the aid of Russia have step up effort to fill in the vacuum of leadership of the middle east. Iranian proxies are not limited to Shia Islamic militant alone, given that Iran have aiding and abetting rogue entities like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, PFLP and Hamas. With waning US influence in the region, Iran and Russia has been attempting to leverage Middle East countries especially in Iraq where Shia is the majority of population to remove US leadership while maintaining Bashar Assad regime in Syria and their resumption to provide arms for the Houthis rebel in Yemen. Also, Iran has been hedging their bets, recently in Afghanistan by assisting the Taliban. With transforming dynamics in west Asia especially the middle east, both Russia and Iran have been seeking to undermine US leadership globally. One of the biggest challenge facing the US, Israel and Gulf States for more than three decades was Russian arms transfer to Iran. In addition, Russia has also provided Iran with nuclear materials and technical information which include technology to improvise Iranian missiles system since the ’90s. Other than Russia, Iran also has military cooperation with North Korea despite ideological differences between the two nations.
Russia arms transfer to Iran predates the collapse of Soviet Union. From 1989 to 1991, Iran receive their first 14 MIG29, 12 Su-24 fighter jets including Air to Air Missiles, S-200 air defense missiles and 3 diesel submarines. From 1992 Iran also receive T-72 tanks, additional MIG29 fighters. Under these agreements, Russia also provided Iran with Surface to Air Missiles including M1 air missiles defense to protect Russian built nuclear reactor in Bushehr. With the sanction impose on Iran in 1995, 70% of arms import to Iran came from Russia. The main reason behind Russian arms sale to Iran isn’t purely constrained to the interest of Russian Defense Companies. With the showdown between US and Iran increases, and US opposition to Russia involvement in Ukraine, both Iran and Russia including China share enmity toward the US where they seek to cooperate to undermine US geopolitical influence. According to declassified CIA document, Iran is one of the most active nation pursuing to acquire WMD and seeking to improve their weapon delivery system from abroad. Since purchasing Soviet R-17 (Scud-B) missiles from Syria and Libya during Iraq-Iran war, Iran has significantly improved their delivery system. Shahab-3, Medium Range Ballistic Missiles(MRBM) produce by Defense Industries Organization of Iran can travel up to 1200 miles (1930 km) which was base on North Korea Nodong-1 missiles. Iran also produce solid base fuels Medium Range Sejjil missiles to replace their liquid fuel shahab missiles. The good news is Iran does not possess the capabilities to develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles(ICBM). The continuation of research and development into ICBM technology by Iran will violate Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action(JCPOA) will prove that Tehran are seeking to acquire long range missiles to deliver warheads. This week Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, also stated that it will take merely five days for Iran to produce 20% of Highly Enriched Uranium which could be use for nuclear warhead but continue to assert Iran nuclear program was meant for peaceful purposes. Nevertheless, Iran and Russia violated UN security council resolution 2231 last two weeks ago, where Iran smuggled unknown weapons to Russia through Syrian military base.
Given that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Vladimir Putin last week, Israel should be concerned of Russia that has been involved in aiding Iran and its proxies throughout the Syrian Civil War. Israel are also concern about Iranian proxy Hezbollah which has estimates of more than 100,000 of rockets including Russian made precision guided munitions especially Yakhont missiles which are threat to Israeli Naval Force at the Mediterranean. Furthermore, Hezbollah use of drones to target ISIS which can be use against Israel in the near future if war broke out between the two. There’s no question that Hezbollah is known to be the Arab world most effective terrorist entities, thanks to Tehran. Other than Hezbollah, Tehran also supply Palestinian Sunni Islamic Terror Organization, Hamas along with other Palestinian terrorist entities like PFLP and Islamic Jihad with munitions and political funding. Hamas was responsible for hundreds of death of Israeli over the years and Hamas are also known to have used Palestinian Civilians as “Human Shield”. Schools and Hospitals were civilian infrastructure that Hamas used to carry out attack on Israel. With Russian getting involve with Syrian Civil war Hezbollah has gain significant advantage by supplies of Russian weapons from Iran and Syria. Weapons like Kornet anti-tank rocket, Russian AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missiles, Yakhont anti-ship missiles, T55, T62 and T72 Tanks pose a significant challenge for Israeli Defense Force. Moreover, Russian ambassador Alaxender Shein, stated that Russia does not consider Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations. While calling them radicals, Ambassador Shein refused to compare ISIS to Hezbollah and Hamas.
In addition, Iran also cooperate with North Korea militarily since the 1980s despite differences of ideology between the two nations and given that both nations shared animosity towards the US. Weapons sharing are also common between both nation including nuclear and ballistic missiles. Both North Korea and Iran also assist Syria in their development of nuclear armaments. Moreover, North Korea has been dealing terror entities like Hezbollah and Hamas. Shipments of weapons included rocket launchers and surface-to-air missile to Hamas and Hezbollah in 2009 was intercepted in Thailand by Israel. The UAE also intercepted over 2000 detonators for Hamas Rockets. Over the past six months, two shipments from North Korea to Syria has been intercepted. Materials from Korea Mining Development Trading Cooperation(KOMID) which was blacklisted in 2009 was described as Pyongyang companies that deals with arms exports related to ballistic missiles. Other than weapons and armaments, North Korea also exchange military expertise including their cooperation of Cyberattack against the US and Israel.
Amidst the changes of dynamic of the Middle East, Iran has been gaining influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. Compare to Daesh, Iran poses a major geopolitical threat to US, Israel and the Gulf States in the regions. Assisted by Russia, Iran and their terror proxies will continue to gain ground if US pulled away from the Middle East. Moscow has no interest in seeing Assad regime goes in Syria nor do they want regime change in Iran and US must stand on its ground in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan to maintain its presence and leadership. US can help bring about changes by aiding opposition such as the Kurds, Arabs and Iranians who are opposing the Ayatollah regime. It may take time before the Iranian conservative regime looses the mandate of the people. As excruciating as it is now, US must maintain and defend the sphere of influence to prevent Tehran and Moscow from expanding