Iran’s missile program has been the target of criticism by the US and the European Union for quite some time. When Yemeni Houthi rebels launched a missile toward Saudi Arabia on November 5, 2017, Iran was accused of having supplied it to them, a charge Iranian officials categorically denied. But on Friday, January 12, a United Nations panel concluded that the Islamic Republic had violated a UN arms embargo by directly or indirectly providing missiles and drones to the Shi'ite rebels in Yemen.
In the 79-page report, the panel accuses Iran of violating UN Security Council Resolution 2216, passed in July 2015, which imposed an arms embargo on Yemeni combatants. In effect, the report not only traces the missiles back to Iran, it also makes clear that the missiles were provided to Houthis after the resolution was passed. In other words, Iran cannot escape responsibility by claiming that it had armed the Houthis before the passage of the resolution.
The report also specifically mentions that Iran has not observed Article 14 of the resolution. The article states: “All Member States shall immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer …of arms and related materiel of all types…and technical assistance, training, financial or other assistance, related to military activities” to Houthis, whether directly or indirectly. This means the report prevents Iranian officials from using the excuse that the Houthis had received the armaments “indirectly”.
There is little doubt that Iran will face consequences after the UN accusation. The report gives credence to the claim made by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. On December 14, she stood amid missile fragments at a military base in Washington DC to reveal what she referred to as proof that Iran is supplying Houthi rebels in Yemen with weapons, in “absolute and undeniable violations” of UN resolutions. The Pentagon displayed debris from what officials said were Iranian-made "Qiam" ballistic missiles fired from Yemen, one on July 22 and another on November 4, at King Khaled International Airport near the Saudi capital, Riyadh, as well as an anti-tank weapon and drone recovered by the Saudis in Yemen.
Iran denied Haley’s claim, and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani dismissed it as “a big lie.” General Masoud Jazayeri, senior spokesman for the Iranian Armed forces, said: “Remarks by [Haley] show that this individual does not understand, and has no knowledge of, military and armament questions,” and added: “If the Americans were aware of the Yemeni resistance’s high level of technology they would not make such ridiculous remarks.”
But the UN report says the design features of the missile debris were "consistent with those of the Iranian-designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile" and were "almost certainly produced by the same manufacturer." The drones were "virtually identical in design" to that of an Iranian-made UAV manufactured by Iranian Aircraft Manufacturing Industries, according to the report.
Now that the United Nations has become involved in the issue of Houthi missiles and officially holds the Islamic Republic responsible, denials by Larijani and General Jazayeri have little credibility. The United Nations is the most important international organization charged with safeguarding international peace and security and its official positions on key issues are bound to have consequences.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that with this report from the UN — especially now that the Trump administration is impatient and eager to apply more pressure on Iran — the issue of Iran’s missiles will likely follow the path of earlier issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This, of course, led to the imposition of a range of sanctions on Iran.
Authority to Use Force
When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) referred the case of Iran’s nuclear program to the Security Council, Iran was buried under the heavy weight of six resolutions that had been passed by the Security Council. These resolutions were passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter that, unlike Chapter 6, gave the UN the authority to use force against Iran if necessary to safeguard international peace and security. In effect, Iran’s nuclear program turned into a trap that could have ended up in the use of force against Iran.
Now, with the UN report accusing Iran of violating Resolution 2216 regarding the war in Yemen, it seems that a “missile trap,” similar to the “nuclear trap” before it, is being prepared for Iran. The Security Council is able to handle issues arising out of the report under either Chapter 6 or Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The implications for Iran are not favorable.
Iran’s missile program has also recently faced strong criticism from US allies, including France, Germany, and Britain. In November 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron called Iran’s missile program “a threat to the whole region” and said that it should be restricted either through negotiations or possible sanctions. And in December, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel joined his French counterpart to demand that Iran reverse its ballistic missile program and end its “hegemonic temptations” across the Middle East.
One must also not forget that following the missile test conducted by the Revolutionary Guards on March 9, 2016 — the missiles were marked with the phrase "Israel must be wiped out” — the US, Britain, France, and Germany wrote a letter to the UN, accusing Iran of violating Security Council Resolution 2231. The resolution endorsed the nuclear agreement with Iran but called on the Islamic Republic “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
With the new UN report accusing Iran of violating Resolution 2216 on Yemen, it is more likely than ever that Iran will again be targeted by Security Council resolutions — this time because of its missile program or because it has armed the Houthis.
Hossein Alizadeh is a former Iranian diplomat who now lives in Finland.