‘Path to war’ — Iran defies Trump with missile tests
Beirut- As US President Donald Trump seeks to tighten the screws on Iran’s contentious ballistic missile programme by renegotiating — and maybe even scrapping — the landmark July 2015 nuclear agreement, Tehran has defiantly stepped up its efforts to develop long-range missiles that could threaten the United States and Israel.
That has heightened concerns that, as both sides dig in their heels on the missile issue, open confrontation may be the result. That’s the last thing that the conflict-plagued Middle East needs as it undergoes its most profound changes in more than a century.
If Trump, an ardent opponent of the 2015 pact that was supposed to lessen tensions, carries out a threat to decertify the agreement, Iran’s response will likely be to expand its missile programme and perhaps its nuclear effort.
“Trump’s failure to reject the illusion that a pressure-only policy makes America safer risks putting the US and Iran back on a path towards war that neither side can truly win,” warned Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, estimated that Iran has the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East with more than 1,000 short- and intermediate-range weapons.
“Tehran responded to the sanctions regime by aggressively expanding its nuclear programme – the opposite to what Washington was seeking,” cautioned Parsi in an op-ed article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Then-US President Barack Obama “realised that if nothing changed, Iran would get a nuclear option before sanctions could bring Tehran to its knees,” Parsi wrote.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, another Washington think-tank, said Iran has conducted at least 16 ballistic missile tests, including two Hormuz-2 anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from a submarine in the Strait of Hormuz, since the nuclear deal was signed.
The missile tests do not technically violate the 2015 agreement, which focused on curtailing Iran’s nuclear programme, but are a breach of an earlier UN Security Council resolution.
The most provocative of the post-agreement tests was the February launch of the new Khorramshahr medium-range missile, which the military said has a range of 2,000km and could be armed with multiple warheads — the first time Tehran has made such a claim. If it’s true, the Khorramshahr marks a major breakthrough for Iran’s missile programme.
Iran also test-fired a space launch vehicle that Western experts see as a precursor to a nuclear-capable, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
“Iran is certainly using its satellite programme to shield the ICBM programme,” said Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps also fired six Zulfiqar missiles at Islamic State targets in northern Syria on June 18, retaliation for a terrorist attack that killed 17 people. That raised the launch total to 24.