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National Security

Iran Tests Limits With Latest Missile Launch

Wait, can't we trust them?

Publius · Oct. 12, 2015
Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan

On Sunday, Iranian state media announced the successful launch of a “new” ballistic missile, which Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said was “capable of precise control.” But after Barack Obama’s deal with Iran, what is that nation doing continuing to test such missiles? Can’t we trust them?

Iranian media images and video showed a missile clearly based on the liquid-fuel Shahab-3 MRBM, which has been in service for over a decade. The allusion to precise control likely refers to a maneuvering re-entry vehicle, a terminal seeker, or both. Maneuvering re-entry vehicles have been part of the SCUD family of short-range missiles for many years, and should be easily adaptable to Iran’s other missiles. This technology does not increase accuracy per se; rather it complicates terminal missile defense by presenting a more difficult, maneuvering target (terminal missile defense takes place inside earth’s atmosphere). A terminal seeker would increase accuracy, providing that Iran can develop a seeker capable of discriminating the desired target from surrounding objects. In any event, based on past Iranian missile development the new “Emad” missile will require five or more years of testing and numerous additional launches before it can be added to Iran’s operational missile force.

Much more important than the military implications are the political implications, and especially the immediate reaction from the United Nations — or more likely the absence of any strong reaction, if the UN’s sorry history is any guide. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2231 in July after approving the Iran nuclear deal. Among Resolution 2231’s many terms is this statement regarding Iran’s missile program:

“Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier.”

In a fine example of circular logic, Iran has already trotted out the excuse that the Emad is strictly a defensive weapon, not a nuclear-capable offensive weapon. Of course, any weapon can be called defensive from a theoretical standpoint, so this argument carries little weight. The key issue is the meaning UNSCR 2231’s language in describing “missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” And “nuclear capable” comes down to range and payload, and most observers have long assessed the Shahab-3 has sufficient payload capacity to carry even a relatively large, crude first-generation nuclear warhead. There seems little doubt the Emad also satisfies the requirements of being “capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

What will be the reaction from the United Nations over what appears to be blatant disregard for UNSCR 2231? What will be the reaction from Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who assured us at every step that we had nothing to worry about over the nuclear deal because if Iran cheated it would be caught and punished? What lesson will Iran take away if its latest episode of defiant cheating costs it nothing? Make no mistake: This launch was about much more than just testing a new warhead or seeker. It was an overt attempt to test the boundaries of what Iran can get away with, and the response from Obama, Kerry and the UN will speak volumes to that question.

Post script: In case readers were wondering, yes, that is the same Hossein Dehghan who was Iran’s field commander in Lebanon in the early 1980’s, and who is almost certainly complicit in Hezbollah’s 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 American servicemen.

Post-post script: Iran also announced Monday it had convicted American journalist Jason Rezaian of “espionage,” but that’s a far-fetched allegation. As The Wall Street Journal writes, “The timing of the conviction won’t escape students of history. Friday was the 444th day of his captivity. That was the number of days U.S. diplomats in Iran spent as hostages following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Mr. Rezaian’s conviction three days later is the mullah equivalent of mailing a dead fish to an adversary.”

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