Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States
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The U.S. Intelligence Community believes Iran probably has an offensive biological weapons program but lacks clear intelligence proving that this is the case. The U.S. Intelligence Community stated in its November 2004 721 Report: “Tehran probably maintains an offensive BW program. Iran continued to seek dual-use biotechnical materials, equipment, and expertise. While such materials had legitimate uses, Iran's biological warfare program also could have benefited from them. It is likely that Iran has capabilities to produce small quantities of BW agents, but has a limited ability to weaponize them."
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The July 2006 Hezbollah attacks on Israel likely is the latest use of terrorism by Iran to advance its regional policy goals. Iran has used terrorism over the years as a means of projecting power, mostly against Israel but also against internal dissidents and other adversaries in Europe. The State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism 2004 (issued April 2005) calls Iran “the most active state sponsor of terrorism,” stating that the MOIS and the IRGC both “provided Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups -- notably HAMAS, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the al- Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command -- with funding, safe haven, training and weapons.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has referred to Iran as the “central banker for terrorism.”Iran’s links are strongest to Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian rejectionist groups, both of which have been designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations. Tehran is reported to have links to al-Qaeda, though U.S. intelligence information is insufficient to make a conclusive judgment on this relationship.
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Iranian assistance to Hezbollah consists of funds, training, equipment, and intelligence. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasarallah stated in a May 2005 speech that Hezbollah had more than 12,000 rockets with ranges of 25-45 miles. The IRGC reportedly has a strong presence in Lebanon to coordinate aid to Hezbollah, including Stinger surface-to-air missiles, Katyusha rockets, mortars, and other weaponry. The State Department Country Reports on Terrorism stated that Iran provided Hezbollah an unmanned aerial vehicle that it flew in November 2004 into Israeli airspace, providing target reconnaissance regarding northern Israeli cities. There were several unconfirmed news accounts in August 2006 of Hezbollah UAVs crashing or being shot down by Israeli forces. The press accounts claimed the UAVs may have been packed with explosives.Hezbollah has also served as a conduit for Iranian provision of weapons to Palestinian groups inside Israel. The ship Karine-A, seized by Israel in the Red Sea in January 2002, was filled with weapons destined for the Palestinian Authority; Hezbollah reportedly provided the funds for purchasing the weapons and hiring the ship, which was loaded in Iran.
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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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Although it does not have unequivocal evidence, the U.S. Intelligence Community believes Iran has an offensive chemical weapons research and development capability. The Intelligence Community reported in its November 2004 unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, also known as the 721 Report, that Iran “…continued to seek production technology, training, and expertise from foreign entities that could further Tehran's efforts to achieve an indigenous capability to produce nerve agents. Iran may have already stockpiled blister, blood, choking, and possibly nerve agents and the bombs and artillery shells to deliver them-which it previously had manufactured.”
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A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a serious strategic threat to the United States and its allies because:
- A nuclear-armed Iran would likely embolden the leadership in Tehran to advance its aggressive ambitions in and outside of the region, both directly and through the terrorists it supports – ambitions that gravely threaten stability and the security of U.S. friends and allies.
- An Iranian leadership which believes a nuclear arsenal protects it from retaliation may be more likely to use force against U.S. forces and allies in the region, the greater Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Nuclear weapons could thus lower the threshold for Iran’s use of conventional force.
- A nuclear-armed Iran would likely exacerbate regional tensions. Israel would find it hard to live with a nuclear armed Iran and could take military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. A deliberate or miscalculated attack by one state on the other could result in retaliation, regional unrest, and an increase in terrorist attacks.