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Experts: Iran Developing Long-Range Missiles Under Nuke Treaty

Iran's Khalij Fars single stage ballistic missile

Iran’s Khalij Fars single stage ballistic missile

While complying with the terms of the nuclear weapons agreement, Iran will continue to test and improve the range and accuracy of its ballistic missiles to deter or coerce potential adversaries — the United States operating in the region, Gulf Arab states, Turkey and Israel – four Middle East experts said last week.

“The missile program was not directly affected by that agreement” covering the nuclear weapons program, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador and now a counselor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Friday.

That has been the opening Iran uses to continue working on its missiles.

Bilal Saab, co-author of a new issue briefing paper on Iran’s missile program for the Atlantic Council, said, Tehran understands it faces a powerful set of adversaries [the United States, United Kingdom, France, Israel and the Arab Gulf states] if Tehran forces a confrontation.

But by playing its cards carefully on its missile program it can test the Gulf Cooperation Council’s ability to react, the relationship between the council and the United States and Washington’s resolve to act in a challenge — say an attack on a GCC radar site — to partners but not treaty allies, he said.

A number of the panelists pointed out that the missile program itself continues to destabilize a region wracked by civil war in Syria, heighten sectarian tensions between the Sunni states — led by Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran and could set off a new arms race that would include cyber in the Middle East.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Michael Elleman, consulting senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Iran started its missile program in response to Saddam Hussein’s attacks on its cities in the long-running 1980s war as a deterrent. Tehran learned from allied tactics in Desert Shield how to employ missiles as precision fires to conduct war.

Tehran, however, still has a long way to go in improving accuracy even in its shorter and medium-range missiles carrying conventional weapons. For example, Iran’s version of the Scud “lands within one kilometer of its target.” To be effective against a hardened target, he said it needed to be accurate within 20 feet.

Elleman added that Iran has not stepped up the pace of its testing program on a number of missiles and needs much more work on it target acquisition, communications systems and bomb damage assessment — using unmanned aerial vehicles.

He estimated Iran was five years or more away from producing missiles equivalent to the long-range Army Tactical Missile System and Pershing II. Achieving range and accuracy “is not something that’s going to happen overnight.” But the United States should “keep a watchful eye and make sure Russia and China are not helping them.”

Elleman also mentioned Pakistan as a possible supplier of missile technology and North Korea, a supplier in the past.

As for Iran’s space program being a cover for Tehran developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, Elleman was skeptical since it has “moved part of the space enterprise outside the control of the military. He said it was more likely Iran “will continue to pursue a hedging strategy” where it can learn some lessons applicable to an ICBM through its space program.

“Over time, Iran will prove a threat to the homeland [and allies in Europe].” He estimated a decade to develop an ICBM, Khalilzad said.

Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, said the United Nations acceptance of the Iranian nuclear deal muddied the waters of what was acceptable or not acceptable in Tehran’s missile program by specifying a halt to it as it related to nuclear weapons.

“You can see the ambiguity that creates” by not specifically including conventional weapons.

Davenport sees export controls, being wary of sales of dual-use technologies and a strengthening of the interdiction program to stop the flow of materials to Iran, rather than new sanctions, as being effective ways to slow the missile program down.

As for the Gulf states, Saab said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could “double down” on their strengths in airpower and stand-off weapons to keep Iran at bay. For all, they should “really get serious about missile defense integration,” even if it means giving up some bits of national sovereignty, to alert each other and fire from one nation to protect another.

  • chris chuba

    If Iran limits the range of their missiles to 2,000 km, I don’t see why this is so destabilizing. Currently, Israel and the Saudis can pound them to bits with bombs. Iran is developing a deterrence. How is this not a rational course of action?

    • Mo

      Because you’re counting on the rationality of, uh, Iran !
      Because you’re talking about the same people who insist on peeing all over barak obama every time he gives them something else.
      Because, per the obama admin, their deal has served no purpose but to make Iran more aggressive.

      Because the first word of your post is “if” !

  • Ed L

    This fellow says Five years, I say 3 and with a range of 2000 miles not km.

    • Tim Dolan

      I used to follow theater and strategic missiles on a regular basis, I am thinking 5 years is much closer to the mark to go from 1km to 100m, much less 20feet (about 7M). The range thing is much easier.

  • DefiantAtheistess

    All the countries in the region are spending much more on defence than Iran, yet these jokers say that Iran is destabilising the region just for improving its defence capabilities.

    What a joke.

    We all know who is destabilising the region. The US has done the most damage in recent times with its catastrophic blunders in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and currently in Syria doing its best to keep the war going.

    These clowns want to ignore all their criminal activity in the region and blame Iran, just for existing and working diligently to defend itself from rogue states like the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    • draeger24

      LOL….anti-American, much? The last administration FUNDED Iran’s program. I don’t think you would be so “defiant” if you knew what kind of life we are preventing you from living under Sharia law. Time to grow up.

  • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

    So… Let me get this straight. The 50 Colonies of Israel demand that Iran must be Libyaized.

  • RobM1981

    “The missile program was not directly affected by that agreement”

    Yes, we all pointed this out when President Chessmaster was bragging about his Superior Intellect. I mean, everyone pointed this out. You don’t need to be Henry Kissinger to know:

    Iran is taking hundreds of millions of dollars that they now have access to,

    Up-gunning their non-nuclear capabilities – such as BM’s, Air Defense, etc., and

    Will chisel the nuclear part of the deal such that they can then present themselves as a fully nuclear power, armed with effective IRBM/ICBM’s, and the ability to defend them from air attack.

    The liberals who support this madness are, literally, handing a blowtorch to a pyromaniac. This is the single most de-stabilizing deal the world has seen since the early 20th century. This is insanity dressed as diplomacy.

    • hass

      Iran actually has a small military budget even compared to its neighbors never mind the US, and instead invests in healthcare and education, which is why Iranian standards of living massively improved after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, at twice the rate of the rest of the world according to the UN’s Human Development Index

  • Ctrot

    And they’re now flush with cash, that we gave them.

  • hass

    “Destabilize” meaning Iran can defend itself. Iran actually spends far less on its military than many of its neighbors never mind the US

  • John B. Morgen

    Iran is going to design and build whatever missiles that they want to be deploy against their enemies. For [NOT] including these missiles in the [treaty] is completely nuts. The President Obama’s administration has really dropped the ball on this item issue.