Iran challenges US with more missile tests
Beirut - Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has launched at least four ballistic missiles in what appeared to be a display of defiance against Israel and the United States, which seeks to force the Islamic Republic to halt testing missiles it says can carry nuclear warheads.
The firings on March 8th and 9th are certain to intensify US congressional pressure for renewed sanctions on Iran despite the landmark July 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and US-led global powers.
The Iranians declared that missiles launched on March 9th were designed to be able to hit Israel, the Middle East’s sole nuclear power. That show of force, with “Israel must be wiped out” reportedly daubed on the missiles, was held while US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting the Jewish state, a week after a joint missile defence exercise with US forces.
Iranian state television showed footage of two March 8th launches from underground silos at undisclosed locations. It identified a missile fired from a fortified mountain cave as a Qiam-1 medium-range ballistic weapon, first tested in 2010.
Two missiles, both identified as Qadr-H weapons with a range of 1,400km, were launched in the eastern Alborz mountains in northern Iran against targets in the Sea of Oman to the south.
Nuclear-capable missiles are forbidden under UN Security Council resolutions and the July 2015 agreement. Iran insists it has no nuclear weapons and that its missiles can only carry conventional warheads.
But the Americans, and other Western intelligence services, say otherwise, despite the 2015 agreement, under which Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions and the release of financial assets in excess of $100 billion.
The United States protested strongly when Iran continued ballistic missile tests after the deal was signed and in January sanctioned businesses and individuals linked to Iran’s extensive missile programme.
Iranian hardliners, particularly the IRGC, which wields immense power and opposed the nuclear deal, refuse to discuss Western efforts to neutralise Iran’s growing ballistic missile force, the largest in the region, surpassing in numbers even Israel’s ballistic arsenal. The missiles are Iran’s strongest strategic strike and deterrent force.
Brigadier-General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s aerospace division, declared after the March 8th tests that the United States “is trying to turn off the lights of Iran’s missile programme. The Guards Corps does not give in to threats.”
Hajizadeh attended the test-firings along with the IRGC commander, Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari.
Western intelligence services have been waiting for an expected test-launch of a two-stage rocket known as the Simorgh at the Imam Khomeini Space Centre at Semnan in central Iran.
As far as is known this was not included in the latest launches, suggesting that the programme may have been delayed. The 85-tonne Simorgh, designed to loft a 100kg satellite into orbit 500km above the Earth, is on the launch pad at Semnan.
The Simorgh is believed to use ballistic missile relevant technology and launching it is certain to redouble US complaints that Tehran is pressing ahead with plans to develop nuclear-capable ballistic weapons that would dangerously alter the balance of power in the Middle East.