“They know all the tricks in the book,” in terms of evading sanctions, the intelligence official said of Iran. Iran can leverage its existing infrastructure network of shell companies and other financial institutions in this anti-sanctions campaign. Iranian financial aid to Russia would be even easier if sanctions on Tehran were lifted as part of the renewal of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, intelligence officials have warned.
To bolster Russia’s depleted weapons inventory, Iran has begun delivering “hundreds” of suicide drones, according to intelligence officials. These drones would probably be part of the “Shahed” series, the size of an American Predator, which Iran has used successfully in Iraq and Syria.
US-Iranian tensions have escalated sharply, even as the two countries appear close to an agreement to revive the nuclear deal. Iranian-backed proxies staged a complex drone strike August 15 at a US base in al-Tanf, southern Syria. No Americans were killed or injured. But it was a daring attack, and US Central Command announcement On Tuesday, the United States retaliated with “precision airstrikes” on a base near Deir-ez-Zor used by groups associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“We will protect our people and hit those responsible, including the IRGC, if they continue like this,” a senior administration official said Wednesday.
The Biden administration has been warning for more than a month of the danger of Iran supplying drones to Russia. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN on July 15 that Iran “is preparing to supply Russia with several hundred drones, including weapons-capable drones,” and that a Russian delegation had examined a “showcase” of drones at an Iranian airfield. Iran quickly insured Ukrainian Foreign Minister that the American information was false.
The Russians actually rushed to place the Iranian drones on the battlefield. “Over the past few weeks, Russian officials have been conducting training in Iran as part of the drone transfer deal,” an NSC spokeswoman told me on Wednesday. She also noted that Russia this month had spear an Iranian “Khayyam” satellite, which has “significant spy capabilities”.
To expand Russian-Iranian economic ties – and build a framework for evading sanctions – Russia has sent executives from Gazprom and other companies to Tehran, according to a article Tuesday in Politico. Iranian economic officials also visited Moscow. “Under what traders are calling a swap deal, Iran could import Russian crude to its northern Caspian coast and then sell equivalent amounts of crude on behalf of Russia in Iranian tankers departing from the Persian Gulf,” Politico noted.
The nascent Moscow-Tehran alliance adds a new hurdle to renewing the 2015 nuclear deal. US officials remain convinced that its limits on Iranian uranium enrichment would bolster US and Israeli security. But Tehran has demanded concessions, outside of the deal, which the Biden administration has so far refused to make.
The most important Iranian demand is that the United States urge the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to stop its investigation of undeclared nuclear sites. “No agreement will be implemented until the IAEA Board of Governors PERMANENTLY closes the case on the false accusations,” a spokesman for Iran’s negotiating team said. tweeted Tuesday.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi had said the day before that his agency would not stop the investigation unless Iran cooperated. “Give us the answers, the people and the places needed so that we can clarify the many things needed for clarification,” Grossi said.
The United States is apparently unwilling to budge on the issue of the IAEA investigation. “We have communicated to Iran, both publicly and privately, that it must respond to questions from the IAEA. … Our position on this will not change,” said White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby. said wednesday.
Iran’s other two demands also appear to be failures. Tehran had asked Washington to remove the IRGC from its list of terrorist groups, but the Biden administration flatly refused. And the Iranians want assurances that a subsequent US administration would not back out of the deal, as President Donald Trump did. Biden obviously cannot commit to a subsequent president, and Congress would not pass such a commitment.
The drone deal between Russia and Iran is a sign of the seriousness of Moscow’s arms supply problems after six months of war in Ukraine. Intelligence officials say Moscow was initially reluctant to reach out to Tehran, whose leadership it distrusts and whose nuclear ambitions it has always opposed. Russia likes to think of itself as a superpower that doesn’t need help from an inconvenient neighbor.
“It shows a lot of desperation on the part of the Russians that they depend on the Iranians here,” the senior administration official said.
Right now, struggling to deal with the flow of arms from the United States and its NATO allies to Ukraine, Russia cannot afford to be so picky. This meets a short-term need. But that puts Russia in an even more isolated and dangerous place.