Iran has ballistic missile capacity to threaten Israel and the West
Iran already possesses a missile arsenal that is capable of attacking its neighbors and parts of Europe. Iran’s missile arsenal is growing both in numbers and sophistication and they are at work at a long-range intercontinental missile.
Equally important, there is no doubt that Iran today is able to attack its neighbors and parts of Europe with ballistic missiles. Iran’s missile arsenal is growing both in numbers and sophistication. By 2008, according to the official public estimate of the U.S. government, Iran had several hundred short- and medium-range missiles. While the official count has not been updated publicly since then, some unofficial estimates now put the number of Iranian missiles at twice that level. Commenting on a possible missile strike against Israel, Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim-Safavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, recently said, “There is no point out of range of and no limit on the number of our missiles.” More disturbing still, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper recently warned that Iran’s “ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD.”
Iran steadfastly continues to deny that it has or has ever had any desire to obtain nuclear weapons, notwithstanding prior shenanigans with inspections, data, secret facilities and so forth. Rather, the Iranian regime claims that it wishes to retain significant nuclear enrichment capabilities for entirely peaceful and legitimate energy production needs. Well then: do the missiles tell a different story?
After more than a quarter century of unrelenting effort, Iran now boasts by far the largest and most multifarious missile arsenal in the Middle East  and is dauntlessly working to expand these already formidable capabilities in terms of range, accuracy, and survivability. At the same time, Tehran appears recently to have abandoned any pretext that its muscular missile programs might be related to innocent space launch ambitions  (which had always been a dubious fig-leaf, lacking any credible economic or geospatial logic). Put simply, the scale and nature of its wide ranging ballistic missile programs has long belied Iranian protestations of peaceful nuclear intentions. If the Iranians refuse to abandon or even curtail these programs as part of a larger nuclear framework arrangement, and with no plausible answer for why they would still need these capabilities if not to deliver nuclear weapons, it speaks volumes about their ultimate goals. If the United States and its negotiating partners have demurred from putting Iranian intentions to this test, then that also speaks volumes. We have seen this movie before (as have the Iranians), when the Agreed Framework that the Clinton administration negotiated with North Korea in the 1990s tried to resolve concerns about a suspected covert nuclear weapons program while deferring any restrictions on overt missile programs. As it turned out, both continued apace. Contrast this to the experience of sincerely repentant nuclear proliferators like South Africa and Libya, which renounced nuclear weapons and their associated missiles in tandem.
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Currently, Tehran lacks an ICBM program, but Iran successfully launched three satellites into space in February 2009, June 2011, and February 2012 using the Safir space launch vehicle.12 Multistage space launch vehicles can serve as test beds for developing long-range missiles; intermediate-range ballistic missiles and ICBMs share many similar technologies and pro cesses inherent in a space launch program. With ranges in excess of 5,500 kilometers (km) and 10,000 km, Iran could threaten targets throughout Europe and the United States, respectively. According to experts at the Congressional Research Service, “it seems clear that Iran has a dedicated space launch effort and it is not simply a cover for ICBM development.”13 That said— and although it would face additional technical hurdles in order to produce ICBMs— Iran has demonstrated “signifi cant progress in the exploitation of stage- separation technologies, which are critical to the development of longer- range ballistic missiles.”14
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Iran sees WMD and ballistic missiles as means to fill the void in military and deterrent capabilities. Tehran suffered under barrages of Iraqi ballistic missiles during the Iran-Iraq War and wants to have the option of using ballistic missiles that are faster and more reliable than Iran's air force for penetrating enemy airspaces to deliver both conventional and WMD warheads. In July 2003 Iran successfully tested the Shahab-3 missile, which achieved a range of about 1,000 km. Iran is suspected of having an unspecified number of operational Shahab missiles, which are based on North Korea's No Dong-1 missile that is reportedly capable of carrying an 800 kg warhead. Iran also is working on a 2,000-km Shahab-4 based on Russian technology, as well as a 5,000-km Shahab-5 missile. These missiles probably are too inaccurate to be of much military utility if armed with conventional warheads, but they would be sufficiently accurate to deliver WMD, particularly nuclear warheads. According to a foreign intelligence official and a former Iranian intelligence officer, the North Koreans are working on the Shahab-4 and providing assistance on designs for a nuclear warhead.
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European governments are anxious about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear capacity. They are not concerned that the arms may be used against them, although Iran's efforts to increase the range of the Shehab missiles to cover parts of Europe, or develop or purchase missiles with a range of 3,000-4,000 kilometers that cover all of Europe does arouse their concern that Iran will try to use nuclear extortion against them as a bargaining chip. They do not have an alternative explanation for the increase in the missile range. Yet for the European governments, the fact that nuclear arms in Iranian hands will upset the stability of the Middle East is of no less importance. The specificthreatto Israel, which might potentially lead to regional deterioration, joins the possibility of a more aggressive Iran and a more radical Middle East. A nuclear Iran may also spur an acceleration in the regional arms race, with Turkey being one of the prime potential participants. Most of Turkey is already within the range of Shehab-3 missiles. This would further heighten tensions in NATO, and the arms control regime would suffer considerably.
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One of the most disturbing aspects of the Iranian WMD program is its determined effort to construct ballistic missiles that will enable Tehran to deliver conventional or, potentially, chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads against its neighbors in the region and beyond. Iran claimed last fall that its Shahab-3 missile can currently strike targets at distances up to 2,000 km (1,200 miles), including Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and southeastern Europe.45 It is believed that Iran's Shahab-4 will have a range of 4,000 km (2,400 miles), enabling Iran to strike Germany, Italy, and Moscow.
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Two possible concerns may temper European acceptance of a nuclear Iran. The first is Iran’s increasingly capable ballistic missile program. The current generation of Shahab-3 missiles has a range just short of Europe’s southern flank. Speculation that Iran may pursue longerrange Shahab-3 variants or develop a newer, longer-range Shahab-4, -5, or -6 version may fuel concerns that Europe could be subjected to nuclear blackmail. In that case, Europe would likely try to shore up NATO ’s southern and Mediterranean orientations. The other concern is Turkey. Already within range of the current Shahab missile, Ankara could decide to pursue its own nuclear agenda to counterbalance a nuclear-armed Iran. This would place original NATO members in a precarious position in regard to their southernmost NATO ally and probably would be more destabilizing than a nuclear-protected Gulf. While unlikely to spur additional nuclear proliferation in the European region, Turkish nuclear weapons acquisition could increase tension within the NATO alliance and raise pressure on the Gulf States to do the same.
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For U.S. adversaries seeking to threaten targets within their regions, short- and medium-range ballistic missiles provide the most effective delivery means. When deployed on mobile launchers, these weapons have proven to be highly survivable against air attacks. Moreover, despite some progress in the development of "hit-to-kill" missile defenses, warheads delivered by ballistic missiles have a substantial probability of reaching their targets. Point defense systems, such as Patriot, have small footprints, making it impractical to defend large populated areas with such systems. And any "thin" deployment of missile defenses can be overwhelmed by modest-sized (between 10 and 20 missiles) salvo attacks, which are well within the capabilities of U.S. regional adversaries. Regional adversaries might also seek to employ manned aircraft or cruise missiles as nuclear delivery vehicles, though U.S. forces have shown themselves to be quite adept at defeating attacks by enemy aircraft.
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This, however, is the current situation, and what is of much greater concern to Israel, is Iran’s longer- term commitment to developing more powerful ballistic missiles, especially those using solid fuel, which have much more rapid pre-launch procedures. Iran already has extensive experience of casting solid fuel propellants for short-range missiles such as the Zelzal and Fateh-110, and in November 2008 a new and very much larger solid fuel two-stage missile, the Sajjil was test-fired. This is reported to have a range of 2,200 to 2,400 km and have a payload capacity broadly similar to the Ghadr-1. Since the first test-firing, there have been two more tests of the Sajjil, but there are no reliable reports that it has yet been deployed. From an Israeli perspective, apart from the solid fuel aspect, the main significance of the Sajjil development is that it appears to have been undertaken with a large element of indigenous Iranian capability. On present rates of progress, Iran may be capable of deploying numerous Sajjil missiles within five years.
The author argues for greater emphasis on restricting Iran's ballistic missile program, arguing that if "Iranians are sincere in renouncing any past nuclear weapons ambitions, then they should have no reason to retain their formidable existing arsenal of missiles, and certainly even less so to pursue even longer range and more capable systems in the future."
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With support from outside sources, Iran within six years could produce an ICBM capable of hitting the United States, the U.S. Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center said in a new report made public yesterday by the Federation of American Scientists.
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that his country had successfully test-fired a medium-range solid-fuel missile apparently capable of striking Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf region.
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A new report by The Times of London says that satellite photographs of a site in Iran indicate the location is being used to develop a ballistic missile that could reach most of continental Europe.
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The United States most likely will face an increased ballistic missile threat from China as well as threats from newly emerging missile powers like North Korea, Iran and possibly Iraq before 2015, according to a recent publicly released US intelligence estimate. [ More ]