Finally, we have the “evidence” of the billions and billions of Iran’s regional military spending. David Adesnik of the “Foundation for the Defense of Democracies” uses “open-source” reports to justify a figure of $16 billion annually “to support terrorists and rogue regimes”.
First of all, note the change. This turns out not to be military spending, but support for “terrorists and rogue regimes”. Mr Adesnik cites “Syria expert” Stephen Heydeman’s figure of $15 billion annual support for president Assad – the piece cited is behind a pay-wall at Bloomberg but the figure clearly includes oil supplied on credit, which is not the same as military spending. Mr Adesnik also quotes a $15 billion figure from “a senior military officer “speaking under Chatham House rules (ie no evidence, and certainly not “open-source”).
Figures for the credit line are drawn from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which after long quotes from Donald Trump, Nikki Haley and Benjamin Netanyahu telling us how angry Iranians are at their money being squandered on “terrorism”, says that Iran last year extended a $1 billion line of credit to Syria, adding to the $5.6 billion credit it had given in 2013 and 2015.
So how did that get us to $15 billion annually?
Mr Adesnik cites a report from something called the Critical Threats Project, which makes various claims as to the number of Iranians fighting in Syria, but it does not present any evidence of military expenditure. Neither does it establish that any of the expenditure involved – for example on wages of soldiers, or on weapons – is additional to Iran’s general expenditure on defence, which was estimated in 2016 atby $12.3 billion a year by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (compared with Saudi Arabia at $70 billion, the United Arab Emirates at $22.8 billion, Israel at $17.8 billion, and the United States at$611 billion).
Mr Adesnik then goes on to suggest that Iran “may” have spent $1 billion a year in Iraq. I wasn’t clear if the Iraqi regime is included in the $16 billion for “terrorists and rogue regimes” or indeed whether Daesh comes under the rubric of “democracies” that are being defended (and therefore whether Iranian resources committed against Daesh are part of the $16 billion supporting “terrorism”).
Mr Adesnik gives a figure for $800 million annual support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, which he sources to a report by the “‘Foundation for the Defense of Democracies” that includes money given to rebuild homes destroyed by the 2006 Israeli invasion.
All in all, there is no evidence presented to support $16 billion – $30 billion figures for Iran’s regional military aid to its allies.