‘Path to war’ — Iran defies Trump with missile tests

Iran has the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East with more than 1,000 short- and intermediate-range weapons.

Tension at its highest. A Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite rocket at its launch site at an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iran’s Defence Ministry)

2017/10/08 Issue: 126 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

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.

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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