A decade-long UN arms embargo on Iran that barred it from purchasing foreign weapons like tanks and fighter jets expired on Sunday as planned under its nuclear deal with world powers, despite objections from the United States.
While insisting it planned no “buying spree”, Iran can in theory now purchase weapons to upgrade military armaments dating back to before its 1979 Islamic Revolution and sell its own locally produced equipment abroad.
In practice, however, Iran’s economy remains crippled by broad-reaching US sanctions, and other nations may avoid arms deals with Tehran for fear of American financial retaliation.
The Islamic Republic heralded the end of the arms embargo as “a momentous day for the international community … in defiance of the US regime’s effort”.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has insisted it has re-invoked all UN sanctions on Iran via a clause in the nuclear deal it withdrew from in 2018, a claim ignored by the rest of the world.
“Today’s normalisation of Iran’s defence co-operation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.
A momentous day for the international community, which— in defiance of malign US efforts—has protected UNSC Res. 2231 and JCPOA.
Today's normalization of Iran’s defense cooperation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region. pic.twitter.com/sRO6ezu4OO
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) October 17, 2020
The United Nations banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear programme. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.
The US Defence Intelligence Agency predicted in 2019 that, if the embargo ended, Iran was likely to try to purchase Russian Su-30 fighter jets, Yak-130 trainer aircraft and T-90 tanks.
Tehran may also try to buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and its Bastian coastal defence missile system, the DIA said. China also could sell Iran arms.
Iran has long been outmatched by US-backed Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have purchased billions of dollars of advanced American weaponry. In response, Tehran turned towards developing locally-made ballistic missiles.
Iran has blasted Gulf Arab purchases of US-made defence equipment as “regrettably lucrative weapon deals” with some of those arms used in the ongoing war in Yemen. That conflict pits a Saudi-led coalition backing the country’s internationally recognised government against rebel forces backed by Iran.
The UN arms embargoes, however, did not stop Iran from sending weapons ranging from assault rifles to ballistic missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. While Tehran denies arming the Houthis, Western governments and weapons experts have repeatedly linked Iranian arms to the rebels.
Six Gulf Arab nations that backed the extension of the arms embargoes noted arms shipments to Yemen in their objection to the resumption of any weapon sales to Iran.
They also mentioned in a letter to the UN Security Council that Iran mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane in January and its navy accidentally killed 19 sailors in a missile strike during an exercise.
The UN also linked Iran to a 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s main crude oil refinery, though Tehran denies any links and Yemen’s rebel Houthis claimed responsibility.
Sunday also marked the end of UN travel bans on a number of Iranian military and paramilitary Revolutionary Guard members.
Tensions between Iran and the US reached fever pitch at the start of the year, when an American drone killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.
Tehran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq that injured dozens.
Meanwhile, Iran has steadily broken limits of the nuclear deal in an attempt to pressure Europe at salvaging the accord.
In recent months, provocations on both sides have slowed as President Donald Trump faces a re-election campaign against former vice president Joe Biden. Mr Biden has said he is willing to offer Iran “a credible path back to diplomacy” if Tehran returns to “strict compliance” with the deal.