Iran ignores UN ban, tests new ballistic missile

Friday 16/10/2015
Picture released on October 11, 2015, by the Iranian Defence Ministry showing the launch of Emad missile during tests at an undisclosed location in Iran.

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.