Iran is Weak and Isolated. The seizure last week of a planeload of North Korean weapons bound for Iran created a sensation. Using a Georgian-registered charter aircraft, and a host of front companies to hide the true nature of the shipment, the North Koreans had hoped to conceal the shipment of rocket launchers, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition. This incident demonstrates that there remains an axis of evil, albeit much reduced from what it was in 2001. It also tells us that rather than being the winner in its struggle with the United States and our allies in the region for dominance in the Persian Gulf region, Iran is losing the struggle.
The discovery of this illegal shipment of arms also tells us that Iran has significant problems equipping its military. It has to turn to North Korea to get essential military hardware. The regime in Pyongyang also has been the source of much of Iran’s missile and nuclear weapons know-how. Virtually the only way North Korea can earn hard currency is by supplying illicit goods and knowledge to comparable regimes. North Korea was assisting Syria in building the nuclear reactor destroyed by Israeli air strikes.
The only other provider of military hardware to Iran is Russia. Moscow sold Iran air defense systems, submarines, anti-ship cruise missiles and sea mines. Russia has also provided Iran with technical support for its nuclear power program and provided the critical systems for the Bushier nuclear power plant. Yet, even Russia has shown some restraint. Moscow has refused to provide Iran with an advanced surface-to-air missile system, the S-300, which could significantly complicate any Israeli or American air strikes on that country.
The Iranian Air Force has suffered for years from a lack of spare parts – in the case of U.S. equipment purchased during the reign of the Shah, decades. It relies on Chinese knock-offs of old Soviet designs for what little air power it retains. Iran’s ground forces rely on antiquated material much of it dating back to the days of the Soviet Union. The Iranian Navy consists of three Russian-build Kilo diesel-electric submarines that the Iranians can barely maintain, a few obsolescent U.S.-exported destroyers and lots of small patrol boats.
Despite some diplomatic support when it comes to sanctions and a lot of interest from commercial concerns, the regime in Teheran is increasingly weak and isolated. This is particularly the case with respect to Iran’s ability to support a modern military. Iran’s military posturing of the past several years is really an explicit acknowledgement of that country’s military weakness. This weakness is also a reason why Iran is so committed to acquiring long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Without them, Iran would be even weaker than North Korea. For this reason, however, it is extremely unlikely that the Iranian government will give up its effort to acquire a capability to build and employ nuclear weapons. Just like North Korea, it has no other leverage.
Iran’s military situation will continue to decline over the next decade. The United Arab Emirates are completing integration of 60 Mirage 2000-9 and 80 F-16 Bock 60s and Saudi Arabia will take delivery of 72 Typhoon fighters to complement its fleets of F-15s and Tornados. The United States will be deploying the Aegis Missile Defense System and the Land-Based SM-3 and THAAD systems to counter Iranian ballistic missiles. This same system may equip the Eastern Fleet of the Saudi Royal Navy. U.S. airpower, centered on the F-22, F/A-18 E/F and, soon, the F-35 will dominate the skies over the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy has always dominated the Gulf, but with the addition of the Littoral Combat Ship, the ability to deal with Iranian sea mines, submarines and small boats will improve. Add to all these elements the increased presence of U.S. allies and Iran’s military position will continue to weaken.
Find Archived Articles: