France attempts to curtail Iran’s missile programme
French President Emmanuel Macron’s surprise visit to Riyadh amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran revived the debate over Iran’s ballistic missile programme.
“There are extremely strong concerns about Iran. There are negotiations we need to start on Iran’s ballistic missiles,” Macron said, even as he suggested a new round of negotiations to “put a framework in place for Iran’s ballistic activities and open a process, with sanctions if needed.”
Macron’s statements were probably well received in Riyadh. Saudi air defence systems on November 4 intercepted a ballistic missile targeting King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.
The Houthis and the chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Major- General Mohammad Ali Jafari, claim the missile was Yemeni-made. They said it was a long-range missile called Burqan 2H but Saudi authorities blamed Iran for the attack, calling it an “act of war” against the kingdom.
US President Donald Trump shared Riyadh’s perception of Iran’s role in the missile intercepted by the Saudis. He accused Iran of firing the missile and praised US-made air defence systems for taking it out.
The missile incident is likely to play into the hands of the US Congress, which must decide whether to keep or kill the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In a possible attempt to preserve JCPOA, Macron tried to correct parts of the nuclear deal well before the missile attack against Riyadh. In September, Macron declared on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that the Iran nuclear deal was no longer a sufficient safeguard against Tehran’s growing power in the Middle East. He said Iran’s ballistic missile programme must be curtailed to assure “states in the region and the United States.”
Macron’s analysis of the problem is correct. However, the prospects are not promising for renegotiation with Iran or working with it to curtail the ballistic missile programme. On November 11, Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, spokesman for Iran’s parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, announced the missile programme is non-negotiable. The next day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the programme is “defensive” and has nothing to do with the nuclear deal.
Iran’s official reaction to Macron’s well-intended attempts is hardly surprising. Lacking the financial means to maintain a large and modernised conventional military to deter regional foes and rivals, Tehran’s military doctrine has long favoured the development of ballistic missile capabilities. The programme has evolved from reverse engineering Soviet and North Korean ballistic missiles into an ambitious domestic missile industry. It is not only a source of pride but perceived as the critical component of Iran’s defence strategy.
Any concession in the ballistic missile field, however small, leaves Iran extremely vulnerable and effectively dismantles its deterrence. This is why Macron’s attempts to curtail Iran’s ballistic missile programme