Belmont Club

If no intent, why the capability?

Former Spook describes yet another step by Teheran towards creating a delivery system for the weapons they deny they are developing.

Barack Obama’s first international “test” moved a bit closer to reality today, with Iran’s test of a new, solid-fuel missile that can strike targets in Israel–and southeastern Europe–more accurately (and with less warning) than other missiles in Tehran’s inventory. Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar identified the missile as the Sajjil, which was launched from a test complex western of Tehran. The two-stage system has a reported range of 1,200 miles, allowing it to reach targets as far away as Greece and Israel.

Additionally, Iran has taken steps to help conceal its missile and rocket forces, improving their prospects for survivability. In the spring of 2005, for example, western intelligence analysts were surprised to find pre-surveyed launch sites for SCUDs and battlefield rockets near the Persian Gulf coastline. The sites had been used in a late-winter exercise involving Iranian missile units, but the deployment locations weren’t discovered until well after the training ended. That discovery underscores the difficulty associated with finding ballistic missiles and rockets in the field.

Tehran has also developed a concealed launch site which could support a surprise attack against Israel, U.S. targets in the Gulf region, or locations in southeastern Europe. When Iran’s missile base at Bakhtaran was built several years ago, analysts noted a rather unusual feature in one of the underground bunkers. Iranian engineers left a rather wide opening in the top of the bunker, which was burrowed beneath a hill.

More detailed analysis revealed the opening was actually a launch shaft for Shahab-3 missiles, which are based at the facility. The underground cavern was large enough to allow a missile to be elevated to launch position and fired through the shaft. Using the subterranean complex, Iranian crews could prepare and fire the missile with little chance of detection. It was an ideal facility for staging a “bolt from the blue” strike against one of Iran’s enemies.

That last item — a surprise first strike capability — puts a tinge of doubt on the argument that Iran simply seeks to deter Israel. Some will argue that neither the West nor Israel have anything to worry about so long as it ‘reaches out’ to Teheran; so long as it keeps the Ayatollahs happy. The problem with relying on pure diplomacy while allowing Iran to acquire an offensive capability is that if diplomacy fails, it fails catastrophically.  ‘Reaching out’ does not provide enough inherent safety.  “Inherent safety is a concept particularly used in the chemical and process industries. An inherently safe process has a low level of danger even if things go wrong. It is used in contrast to safe systems where a high degree of hazard is controlled by protective systems.” A system of diplomatic arrangements with Iran may provide some degree of assurance, but only an Iran without nuclear weapons is inherently safe. Obama has often described a “world without nuclear weapons”. But the first step to achieving this is assuring they are never built. There seems little reason to hope for a non-nuclear Iran. Obama’s policy on the subject of  missile defense is ambiguous. Too many jokers in the deck, and the wheel of fortune turns.

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