On Monday, Iran’s legislature moved ahead with plans for a dramatic increase in military spending and a long-range missile program. Reuters:
The vote is a boost to Iran’s military establishment—the regular army, the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and defense ministry—which was allocated almost 2 percent of the 2015-16 budget. […]
The Obama administration says Iran’s ballistic missile tests have not violated the nuclear agreement with Tehran, but Trump, who criticized the accord as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, has said he would stop Iran’s missile program.
“Those ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,250 miles, were designed to intimidate not only Israel … but also intended to frighten Europe and someday maybe hit even the United States,” he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC in March. “We’re not going to let that happen.”
Iran’s missile program, then, could provide an early test of Trump’s credibility. Monday’s vote shows that Iran is undeterred by the President-elect’s warnings about a program it has said is “non-negotiable.”
The spending boost also puts paid to the credulous hopes of proponents of the Iran deal, including President Obama, who argued that the agreement could be a moderating force restraining Iran’s aggression. The opposite seems to be happening: An emboldened Iran is making gains across the Middle East, and the financial windfall from the deal is unlocking funds to go toward further military expenditures. Rivals like Saudi Arabia have read the writing on the wall and are boosting their own military spending as they eye an increasingly powerful Tehran.
Nor is Iran’s bellicose posture merely a matter of budgets. Much like China in the South China Sea, Iran has lately been indulging in provocative military maneuvers to test U.S. resolve. On Sunday Reuters reported that four Iranian vessels barreled down on an American navy destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz, provoking warning shots from the U.S. side:
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the USS Mahan established radio communication with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats but they did not respond to requests to slow down and continued asking the Mahan questions.
The Navy destroyer fired warning flares and a U.S. Navy helicopter also dropped a smoke float before the warning shots were fired.
The Iranian vessels came within 900 yards (800 meters) of the Mahan, which was escorting two other U.S. military ships, they said.
Such provocative moves will not sit well with Trump and could strengthen the case in his cabinet for a hardline stance against Iran. In any case, the Trump team will have its work cut out for it in re-establishing credible red lines with Iran, which has grown used to a pliant Obama Administration.