Israel holds a massive U.S.-funded hammer; Saudi Arabia also has more arms than it appears capable of using wisely; Iran, a natural regional power, sits crippled by international sanctions and antagonized by its marginalization: a dangerous regional setup. Will Moscow’s now promised (again) defensive missiles rebalance the strategic regional equation just the right amount so as to give it a new stability?
With American arms pouring endlessly into Israel and Saudi Arabia, a defensive Russian system to enhance Iranian national security would go far toward balancing the regional military equation: all states seek security and its lack frequently provokes dangerously risky behavior. The ground-to-air S-300 missiles to Iran, if delivered, will bring in tow Russian prestige and, most likely, Russian personnel, making Russia a player again in the Mideast. It can be assumed that Putin, a cautious strategic thinker, will be determined to protect what he delivers. The missiles should also make it easier for decision-makers in Tehran to advocate moderation in world affairs and a focus on economic development. Iran in a post-sanctions environment combined with improved ties to Russia will have many options and may find its interest in (not to mention its fear of) Israel relatively diminished. This, in turn, could hardly be more timely for the U.S., which needs Iranian cooperation to find solutions to three dangerous crises: the Yemeni civil war, the Syrian civil war, and ISIS. Ukraine or not, is Moscow doing the U.S. a favor?
With American arms pouring endlessly into Israel and Saudi Arabia, a defensive Russian system to enhance Iranian national security would go far toward balancing the regional military equation: all states seek security and its lack frequently provokes dangerously risky behavior. Particularly in a region plagued by three militant religious states, marginalizing and discriminating against one of the region’s natural powers is a recipe for trouble.
If Iran reacts to the provision of legitimate defensive capabilities and the opening of economic doors by focusing on building its strength, the Mideast could become a remarkably more stable region, but it will first have to creep through a vast domestic and international minefield. Israeli aggression against Iran’s Syrian and Lebanese Hezbollah friends will constitute a constant war magnet, as Israeli air strikes in Syria during the final days of April—raw meat for every Iranian hardliner—demonstrate. Similarly, Iran will surely have to contend with increasing hostility from a Saudi Arabia already becoming noticeably more oriented toward regional anti-Iranian military adventures. Some Iranian factions may view Russian support as an opportunity for more aggressive regional behavior, but two factors will influence any such argument:
- Iraq at the moment represents both a challenge (defeating ISIS) and an opportunity (consolidating the already predominant Iranian influence;
- Syria, Iran’s No. 2 issue in an environment where an Israeli attack is removed from the strategic equation, is a place where a hardline policy by the U.S. will likely provoke a hardline Iranian response but equally where an international diplomatic environment conducive to taking Iran’s strategic concerns into account might well persuade Iran to compromise.
But the lure of warming political and economic ties with both Russia and China plus likely counseling from both to move cautiously in combination with U.S. support for a Syrian compromise may persuade Tehran to accept a positive-sum solution. The current broad international pressure upon Riyadh to moderate if not abandon its rash military interference in Yemen enhances the likelihood of such an outcome. To phrase it more realistically, in terms of dynamics rather than snapshots of events or decisions, consolidation of Iraq as part of Iran’s sphere of influence, U.S.-Iranian cooperation against ISIS, new warmth in relations with Russia, enhanced Iranian national security, and international economic opportunities may each enhance the impact and attractiveness of the other factor, generating a slow but steady movement of Iranian foreign policy toward pragmatism.
An Iranian move toward moderation, in turn, could hardly be more timely for the U.S., which needs Iranian cooperation to find solutions to three dangerous crises: the Yemeni civil war, the Syrian civil war, and ISIS, and the two are already unofficially working together to address the latter. Ukrainian tensions notwithstanding, is Moscow doing the U.S. a favor by offering Iran enhanced national security?