Iran’s missile comedy

It is time for Iran to accept the premise that it can be a regional player but not a dominant one.

Show of might. A 2016 file picture shows an Iranian long-range S-200 missile being fired in a military drill in the port city of Bushehr. (ISNA)


2017/06/04 Issue: 109 Page: 15


The Arab Weekly
Khairallah Khairallah



There is nothing preventing Iran from erecting a third or fourth or fifth missile plant under or above ground. The real questions will always be: What need is there for these missiles and why talk about them right after the re-election of President Hassan Rohani? What possible project could these missiles be serving and will they somehow provide relief for Iranian citizens?

The only uses for Iranian-made missiles have been either to systematically destroy certain Arab cities (see for example the destructive Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88), to provoke Israel in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip or, more recently, to launch attacks on Saudi Arabia from Yemen. Most of the missiles fired towards Saudi Arabia by the Houthis are Iranian-made and this sits very well with Iran’s desire to show off its might in the Gulf region.

In the Iraq-Iran war, Iran was theoretically the victim of Iraqi hegemony, however, one cannot deny that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq felt seriously threatened by Iranian policies and resorted to a pre-emptive war with Iran. That war was disastrous on all levels for Iraq, Iran and the entire Arabian Gulf.

History will tell whether Saddam had any other choice but to embark on that crazy war. At that time, the Khomeini regime in Iran had done everything to provoke that war and Saddam, who lacked finesse in understand­ing regional and international power plays, had failed to see Tehran’s hidden objectives.

The war with Iraq served the Khomeini regime very well. First, it gave Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his cohorts the opportunity to “cleanse” the Iranian Army by sending troops whose loyalty to the regime was in question to the battle front and away from Tehran and other major cities. Second, it was the perfect context for nurturing nationalistic, albeit ethnic, feelings. Those were essentially feelings of Persian pride, which made Iranians look down on Arabs in general, including Shia Arabs.

When it comes to Iran’s expan­sionist plans, whether Rohani is a reformist becomes irrelevant. Iran will continue to use its missiles in the service of its hegemonic plans. The news of a third underground missile facility was perfectly timed as a response to the three summits in Riyadh. The United States had reacted firmly to a recent test run of an Iranian ballistic missile. Iran must have decided to probe the reaction of the new US administra­tion, especially following US President Donald Trump’s cam­paign promises to review his predecessor’s nuclear deal with Iran.

The Iranian regime needed to test the Trump administration’s reaction once again because, in its eyes, what happened during Trump’s visit to Riyadh was a real coup. The Arab countries demon­strated their willingness to go along with the United States within the context of a real partnership. A new era of privileged US-Arab relations has dawned. These relations are no longer contingent on a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East nor do they use Palestinians and their cause as a bargaining chip. That role was left to Iran and its cronies.

The Trump administration has demonstrated its willingness to find an even-handed solution to the Palestinian cause. After Riyadh, Trump stopped in Israel and the Palestinian territories. It is true that Trump does not have a plan to deal with the settlements but his ability to strike deals and come up with mutually advanta­geous solutions is undeniable.

The news of a third missile plant in Iran is kind of trivial because everybody knows that Iran is using North Korean technology in its missiles, which makes them quite unreliable. What Iran really wants is to appear as an unavoidable power player regionally. It is time for Iran to accept the premise that it can be a regional player but not a dominant one. With Trump and his team, the rules of the game have changed.

As long as Iran continues to depend on oil revenues, the missile game is pointless. The Iranian regime needs to learn from the experience of the former Soviet Union. Simply put, the regime in Iran does not have a winning model to propose to the region’s populations and Iran’s economic base cannot sustain the proxy sectarian wars it is waging.


Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer.


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