By developing an impressive arsenal of attack drones, rockets, and cruise and ballistic missiles, the Islamic Republic has achieved a decisive advantage over its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Most importantly, the Iranians have learned how to use these weapons in concert, in ways that can overwhelm even the most sophisticated American-made defensive systems. The U.S., for its part, has shown itself reluctant to respond to Iranian aggression against its Gulf allies, or even against its own soldiers. Michael Doran and Can Kasapoğlu examine the political and strategic dimensions of this situation, which has implications for Russia and China as well as the Middle East:
The United States has the military capabilities to prevent Iran from advancing toward a nuclear bomb and to deter it from threatening its neighbors—and it can do so without sparking a major war. It has more than enough might to reassure allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that they can rest comfortably under the American power umbrella. What is more, these allies want to remain inside the American system. The erosion of the American order is therefore more the result of confusion in Washington than of objective shifts in global power.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been on the receiving end of sophisticated Iranian missiles and drones for around five years now. The immunity from counterattack that Iran has enjoyed has emboldened it to support Russia. Moreover, it has set America’s Gulf allies on a quest for security that, increasingly, is taking them out of the arms of the United States and into the waiting embrace of China. The week before last, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced no less than three summit meetings among the Saudis, the Gulf States, and regional Arab countries with the Chinese, concurrent with the anticipated visit of China’s President Xi Jinping to the kingdom.
If today Venezuela were to import the Soumar, an Iranian long-range cruise missile based on the Soviet-Russian Kh-55 line of missiles, it would probably have difficulty hitting targets inside the United States. Its range will increase, however, once the [removal of sanctions and embargos under the nuclear deal] facilitates the integration of Western components. Cities such as Miami and New Orleans will easily fall into the crosshairs of the anti-American regime in Caracas, posing a direct strategic threat to the American homeland.
China now holds the balance between Iran and the Gulf States with respect to the very weapons that give Iran its disruptive military edge. Xi Jinping has managed to insinuate China into the balance of power between America’s Gulf allies and Iran.