This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
President Hassan Rohani has vowed to boost Iran’s military while parading a new domestically built fighter jet in response to what he says is growing U.S. aggression toward Tehran.
Rohani claimed in a speech on state television on August 21 that the Islamic republic’s military prowess has deterred Washington from attacking the country.
“The enemy should see how expensive an invasion of Iran would be,” he said. “Why does not the U.S. wage a military attack on us? Because of our power, because it knows the consequences.”
“Some think when we increase our military power, this means we seek war. This is peace-seeking, because we don’t want war to happen,” Rohani added. “If we don’t have a deterrent…it gives a green light for others to enter this country.”
White House national-security adviser John Bolton said in an interview with Reuters published early on August 22 that Washington was not seeking military conflict with Iran but wanted to put “maximum pressure” on Tehran through economic sanctions to force it to disengage from conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
“There should not be any doubt that the United States wants this resolved peacefully, but we are fully prepared for any contingency that Iran creates,” he said.
Last week, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also claimed that the United States would avoid any military confrontation with Tehran because of Iranian military might, and he forebade Iranian leaders from taking up Trump’s offer of unconditional talks on a new nuclear deal.
Trump started reimposing economic sanctions on Iran this month after pulling out of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in May. The sanctions have contributed to a plunge in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, that has stoked popular discontent with rising prices and a faltering economy.
Bolton in the Reuters interview said the sanctions had been more effective than the White House expected at hobbling Iran’s economy and causing European businesses to flee Iran.
But he acknowledged that so far they had done little to change the Iranian leadership’s stance.
“The economic effects, certainly, are even stronger than we anticipated” and were affecting public opinion in Iran, he said. “Businesses all over Europe are seeing that the choice between doing business with Iran or doing business with the United States is very clear to them.”
“But Iranian activity in the region has continued to be belligerent,” he said.
Rohani in his speech compared the sanctions on Iran with Trump’s ongoing trade war with China and new tariffs that he imposed on some Turkish exports recently.
Rohani claimed the measures against Turkey, which follow Trump’s imposition of tariffs on European and Canadian exports of aluminum and steel, showed that Trump is waging a kind of economic war not only against Iran but against Washington’s own long-standing allies — leading to growing U.S. isolation in the world.
“It’s not only us who do not trust America. Today, even Europe and China do not trust them; even American allies like Canada have lost their trust,” he said.
Rohani presided over a ceremony broadcast on state television on August 21 that featured the fly-over of a new fighter jet called Kowsar, which Iran says is “100 percent indigenously made” and able to carry various weapons.
State television showed Rohani briefly sitting in the plane’s cockpit inside a hangar.
Iran has previously launched what it claimed was a new fighter jet, in 2013, but its air force is regarded as weak in a region where rivals like Saudi Arabia and Israel are buying and using some of the most sophisticated aircraft manufactured in the United States today.
Iran’s air force has been limited to perhaps a few dozen strike aircraft using either Russian or aging U.S. models acquired before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
While Iran has sent weapons and thousands of fighters to Syria to battle alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s army in a seven-year civil war, Syria has relied on Russia — not Iran — for air support in the war.
Some military experts said the fighter jet Iran announced on August 21 looked dated and appeared to be a carbon copy of an F-5 that was first produced in the United States in the 1960s.
“The airframe appears to be an externally unaltered, two-seat F-5 Tiger,” Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told Reuters.
“It’s a very small, lightweight fighter with very small engines, which limits the thrust output, a very low internal fuel capacity, which limits range, and a very small nose, which limits the size and power of radar that you can fit,” he said.
“All of those constraints are not going to be changed by updating the internal components. While you might put a modern radar, or modern avionics — by Iranian standards — in there, it is still going to be subject to all limitations of the F-5 airframe,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, Ofir Gendleman, also said the new fighter jet looked like a refurbished F-5, while Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman mocked the new jet.
“It is a natural reaction to the economic difficulties,” Lieberman told reporters in Tel Aviv. “They are under pressure because of the American sanctions and react by inventing stories…. But it should not be taken lightly.”