Iran ignores UN ban, tests new ballistic missile
Beirut - Iran has test-fired a new long-range ballistic missile in defiance of a UN ban in what appears to be a concentrated drive to improve the accuracy of its growing arsenal, a development that must dismay Israel which has threatened pre-emptive strikes against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities.
Iran’s parliament, on the same day, approved an outline of a bill giving the regime the power to withdraw from the landmark July 14th nuclear agreement with US-led global powers if crippling economic sanction against Tehran are not lifted.
It is not clear what impact the bill may eventually have on the nuclear accord. But Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan declared after the October 11th test of the Emad (Pillar) missile: “We don’t ask permission from anyone to strengthen our defence and missile capabilities.”
The Iranian Defence Ministry said testing of the Emad, which it said is the Islamic Republic’s first precision-guided, long-range missile, was successful. “This greatly increases Iran’s strategic deterrence capability,” Dehghan declared.
There was no independent verification of the test, although it was probably monitored by US spy satellites and possibly Israeli ones as well. Iranian state news agency IRNA said Emad is Iran’s first precision-guided missile with the range to reach Israel.
If the project is successful, it could dramatically improve Tehran’s military capabilities by allowing Iran to target strategic targets in Israel.
Up to now, the Iranians have not had the technology to hit individual military targets in Israel, only to threaten large areas, such as the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, with the long-range missiles that are the country’s primary strategic weapons. This has severely limited Tehran’s military effectiveness.
Dehghan said the Emad can be controlled up to the moment of impact and is able to hit targets “with great precision”.
If the Emad programme is successfully completed, it would significantly alter the strategic equation as any pre-emptive strike by the Jewish state could be countered by an Iranian attack with missiles capable of inflicting far greater damage than before.
Tehran has released few details of the Emad. But Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, has said the Emad is a variant of Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, which is the backbone of Tehran’s missile armoury.
Cordesman said the liquid-fuelled Emad carries a manoeuvring re-entry vehicle “to improve accuracy and complicate missile defence” and should be accurate to within 500 metres of its intended target. It has a range of 1,700 kilometres and can carry a 750-kg warhead. Cordesman estimated the system is scheduled for operational deployment after 2016.
In August, Iran unveiled its Fateh-313 medium-range ballistic missile, which IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly reported carried an advanced guidance system which gives it greater precision, although its payload was probably reduced to accommodate it.
It has a range of 500 km, enough to reach most major targets in the Arab powers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), led by Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic Republic boasts “the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East”, according to Michael Elleman, a missile expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. But he estimates it will take Iran “many years… and dozens of flight tests” to master the new guidance technology.
Despite Western efforts to include limits on Iran’s missile programme, the July 14th deal had no such stipulations. However, the UN Security Council has decreed that foreign powers cannot aid Iran in its missile development programme, a ban that stays in place under the accord. The United Nations also prohibits Iran from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles that could produce a nuclear warhead.
That applies to the Emad programme. The October 11th launch was the first such test of a ballistic system since the Security Council endorsed the July 14th agreement in Resolution 2231, which called on Tehran not to undertake any activity related to developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
So to a large extent, Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal remains largely untouched by the nuclear deal and could well grow even larger and deadlier despite the continuance of a UN ban on selling missile technology to Tehran.
All this sends shivers of concern through the Arab monarchies of the Gulf, which are the most vulnerable to any Iranian aggression and are currently locked in an escalating confrontation with the Islamic Republic at a time when the United States is scaling down its military presence in the region.