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Iran's new best friends: China and Russia. Shades of Viet Nam?

In the 1960s LBJ never entirely understood that China and Russia was full prepared to supply the North Vietnamese unlimited military and economic aid to make sure the region stayed in "friendly" hands. We never had a chance.

Russia jumped into Syria to further destabilize that hot spot after the Obama/Hillary team stumbled.

Today, our old adversaries are shrewdly making sure than Iran's orbit of influence (including supporting terrorist organizations) stays strong.

PS. And you thought COVID was the only gift we received from Xi Jinping?

Why Russia and China Build Up Iran

Though vulnerable, Tehran is the ideal Middle East partner in an alliance to destroy the U.S.-led order.

By Bryan Clark and Michael Doran

Jan. 27, 2022 6:29 pm ET

The Ukraine crisis exposes a flaw in President Biden’s Iran strategy. Washington engages with Beijing and Moscow as if they share core U.S. interests with respect to Iran, when instead they are working with Tehran to undermine the American-led global order.

That’s certainly what officials in Tehran are saying. Last Wednesday, Mahmoud Abbaszadeh-Meshkini, a spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said: “In the new world order, a triangle consisting of three powers—Iran, Russia, and China—has formed.” He was clear about the goal: “This new arrangement heralds the end of the inequitable hegemony of the United States and the West.”

The Biden team isn’t listening. Last Friday Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who proposed an interim deal to break the deadlock in the Iranian nuclear negotiations. “Russia shares our sense of urgency,” Mr. Blinken said, “and we hope that Russia will use the influence . . . it has with Iran to impress upon Iran that sense of urgency.”

As Mr. Blinken spoke, Russia was holding joint naval drills with China and Iran in the Indian Ocean. The day before, President Vladimir Putin hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow. In a speech before the Duma, Mr. Raisi discussed “Resistance”—the movement Iran leads to destroy the U.S.-led order in the Middle East. Resistance, he said, drove the Americans from Afghanistan and Iraq, and it also generated “the successful model of cooperation between Iran and Russia in Syria.” In that spirit, Mr. Raisi parroted Mr. Putin’s main grievance with respect to Ukraine. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mr. Raisi said, “seeks to infiltrate various geographical areas with new alibis that threaten the common interests of independent states.”

Mr. Putin’s campaign to bring Ukraine under Moscow’s control has a direct connection to the joint Russian-Iranian project of propping up the Assad regime in Syria. Russia’s naval bases in Sevastopol, Crimea (which Mr. Putin annexed from Ukraine in 2014), and in Tartus, Syria, serve as operational hubs for Russia’s Mediterranean presence. A strong, independent Ukraine threatens Moscow’s ability to project power into the Middle East.

Mr. Putin may agree that Iran should never possess nuclear weapons. Cooperating closely with the U.S. to achieve that goal, however, interferes with his more urgent priority, which is to undermine the American-led order.

For his part, Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a similar set of calculations. Thanks to one of history’s most rapid military buildups, China now has Asia’s largest air force, the world’s largest army by number of active-duty troops, and largest navy by number of vessels. According to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command leaders, the Chinese military will be poised to invade Taiwan successfully by 2027. The Pentagon is playing catch-up. It is acquiring new weapons and technologies capable of deterring China, but these won’t be fully integrated into the force until late this decade. China’s optimal window to conquer Taiwan, therefore, will be between 2025 and 2030, when its military modernization peaks while U.S. forces are still adapting.

Which brings us back to Iran. In the event of war in Taiwan, China will look to Tehran and its proxies to mount threats to shipping—to pin down one or more American carrier groups in the Persian Gulf. But the value of Iran’s “Resistance” doesn’t end there. Beijing is heavily dependent on Middle East oil imports. It aims to protect its long and vulnerable supply lines by toppling the U.S. as the region’s pre-eminent power. It isn’t strong enough to mount a direct challenge, so it uses Iran as its stalking horse.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian recently announced that the 25-year strategic accord between Iran and China, forged last year, has entered into force. At the heart of the accord is oil for security assistance. Is China actively encouraging Iran to unleash its proxies against America’s Gulf allies? Not that we know of. But it is building up Iran and doing nothing to counter its most malign behavior. Beijing cannot but have noticed that when U.S. allies turn to Washington for help, they encounter a weary and distracted America, one ever less eager to deter Iran. Increasingly exposed, the allies hedge, tentatively tilting toward Beijing.

China’s influence in Middle Eastern military affairs has therefore increased substantially. It sells military equipment to most of the Middle Eastern allies of the U.S. and manufactures weapons in partnership with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It is helping the Saudis master nuclear technology. In the spring of 2021, U.S. intelligence observed China secretly building a military site at Khalifa Port near Abu Dhabi. The construction stopped only after arm-twisting by Washington.

The interim deal on the Iranian nuclear program that Mr. Lavrov discussed with Mr. Blinken reportedly calls on Iran to reduce its stockpiles of enriched uranium in return for lifting sanctions. But this would only fuel Iran’s economy while allowing it to retain the capability of generating enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon at short notice. The proxy wars will expand, and the nuclear blackmail will continue.

In sum, China and Russia are building up Iran. Both need a partner in the Middle East devoted to “Resistance”—to undermining U.S. power. Why is the Biden team going along for the ride? Washington’s approach should be more strategic. Among the members of the global alliance dedicated to destroying the American-led order, Iran is the most vulnerable. The job of the U.S. is to defang it.

Messrs. Clark and Doran are senior fellows at the Hudson Institute.

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