Calibration Target

The Telegraph reports that satellite imagery of Saudi Arabia shown to British analysts reveals a missile base in Saudi Arabia with two launchers. One is aimed at Teheran, the other aimed at Tel Aviv, based on aiming indicators visible from the pictures. The missiles are part of a force of DF3s acquired from China some years ago. The analysts quite naturally reasoned that there would be little point at aiming two conventionally armed weapons at these targets. Therefore they imply, in that wonderfully understated British way that perhaps the missiles are meant to be armed unconventionally.


Analysts who examined the photos spotted two launch pads with markings pointing north-west towards Tel Aviv and north-east towards Tehran. They are designed for Saudi Arabia’s arsenal of lorry-launched DF 3 missiles, which have a range of 1,500-2,500 miles and can carry a two-ton payload.

The base, believed to have been built within the last five years, gives an insight into Saudi strategic thinking at a time of heightened tensions in the Gulf. …

Experts fear that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would seek to follow suit.

Given President Obama’s assurances that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon there must be a high probability that it will. If his pledge to prosecute a war of necessity in Afghanistan or bring democracy to Egypt or enforce a red line in Syria are indications of how well his pledges hold up, then you can count on Iran getting a weapon pretty soon.

And then maybe the Saudis will arm the missiles with something bought from Pakistan. If the Telegraph’s report is accurate the Saudis figured out five years ago that the administration would be as good as the negation of their most solemn pledges.

The other theory making the rounds of the Web is that the Saudis are sending a signal by drawing what amounts to large pictures in the dirt designed to scare Teheran.

The problem with that idea is that Teheran has to see where the missiles are pointed with its surveillance systems to be bluffed. Teheran’s surveillance satellites are built in cooperation with China. Recently the following images found in the Gobi desert were identified as Chinese calibration targets.

Chinese Calibration

Chinese Calibration

The large size of the Chinese calibration target is suggestive of its poor resolution. Compare this to an American calibration target, where the markings are much smaller. Its apparent that China might easily have missed the aiming indicators. Hence the only sure way Teheran was going to get the message was if the story of the Saudi launchers was published in the UK Telegraph.


But what is the point of sending such a signal to Iran, if the Telegraph story is indeed meant as a signal? The Ayatollahs must have known the likely Saudi response for a long time now. And if that didn’t stop them then, pictures of a launcher won’t dissuade them now.

Or maybe they were playing a game like some wayward children, certain that daddy would save both in the end. Maybe for the longest time Saudi Arabia and even Iran itself danced on the edge believing they would be rescued by America. That however near the brink they came, enough of the old magic remained in Washington to square everything. After all that’s how it works in the movies. Bruce Willis blows up the asteroid. Or Tom Cruise disarms the nuke in the last second.

Even in real life America seemed in a league of its own. After all Washington was the victor of 40 years of brinksmanship in the Cold War. They beat the Nazis and the Russians and the Japanese too. They would catch the region if it fell. Perhaps the regional actors were convinced that Washington would find some way to stop them from continuing their self-harm.


They could not have anticipated an administration in Washington so incompetent that it would let not only their individual countries but the whole region would fall through the cracks to avoid being late for a game of golf and not even notice the catastrophe.

Maybe the real significance of the missiles in the desert is that bluffing is all anyone can do now the hegemon has quit his job. Either that or live in peace and nobody seems to want to do that. Hence nothing stands between the region and Armageddon any more except the Arabs themselves. Obama’s not going to save them. Oh he’ll promise to do it. And the more he promises the less confident everyone will be.

Perhaps everyone can hope the “magic of Valerie” pull the chestnuts out of the fire. The disappointment will be keener still in  Western Europe and America itself, where some actually hoped the new administration would save the day. For decades the hegemon would square the account, but times have changed.


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