Iranian Missile and Nuclear Threat

Contributing Editor Air Marshal AYAZ AHMED KHAN takes a detailed look at our great neighbour's potential and capacity

US is alarmed at Iran's military exercises, deployment on Afghanistan's border, indigenous defence production, and especially at its missile development and nuclear programme. These are considered as threats to the region. The recent deployment of quarter million Iranian troops including seventy thousand Pasdaran-e-Inqilab did create the apprehension even in Pakistan that Iranian military offensive against Afghanistan, could engulf the region into a new conflict.

Iran's successful test of an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM Shehab) was detected by a US spy satellites on Wednesday July 22, 1998 and is the cause of concern in Washington and Tel-Aviv. White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry said that the missile test of a medium range missile of Korean origin by Iran is a matter of serious concern to the US Administration. Named Shehab III with a range of eight hundred miles i.e. 1300 kilometers, it would bring Israel and Saudi Arabia within the range of the missile which at a later date could be fitted with a nuclear warhead. Both US and Israel suspect that this test signifies that Iran wants to develop nuclear warheads for Shehab III, though Iran does not possess uranium enrichment capability or nuclear power stations. This IRBM firing however shows that Iran has acquired missile technology and is determined to acquire deterrent capability.

Yitzhak Mordechai the Israeli defence minister described the Shehab III missile test firing as 'very worrying'. According to him it posed a threat to the Middle East, and to Israel. After the test firing of Shehab III on July 22, 1998 Tehran had claimed that its design and technology was entirely Iranian. US officials had alleged that Shehab III technology was of North Korean origin. Fears in Israel mounted after Tehran announced that Shehab III was a counter to the nuclear threat from Israel. Iranian officials bombast that Shehab III could hit and destroy selected targets in Israel accurately has created fears in Tel-Aviv. Shehab III's were later put on display at a military parade in Tehran. Israeli defence minister Yitzhak Mordechai has commented that 'there is a large time lag between missile testing, series manufacture and deployment. Israel could not be expected to sit idle if an Iranian missile threat emerged against Israeli security,' he said.

After the Shehab III test Tel-Aviv alerted Washington, and US and Israel are now engaged in the joint 'Arrow II anti missile' SAM programme. Three Patriot SAM batteries were also supplied to Israel by the US. The Arrow II joint venture is to develop a superior anti missile SAM to intercept Shehab III. Israel has twenty US supplied Lance SSM's and indigenously designed Gabriel SSM systems. These could be fitted with conventional and nuclear warheads, and target Iran, Pakistan and Arab countries.

Recently French defence minister Alain Richard commented that 'Iran's Shehab III is not yet operational. It exploded in mid air after its launch. But we can expect successful test, and deployment within a few years. This missile is a threat to peace and stability in the Gulf and the Middle East'. There are several contradictions in the statement of the French defence minister. Firstly it was a US spy satellite which monitored and reported the successful test launch of Shehab III. Since July 22, there were no adverse comments by the US or French agencies or military analysts. French defence minister's adverse comment after three months that Shehab III is a failure and a threat to region peace is surprising! If Shehab III exploded after launch; where is the threat?

Iranian authorities were pleased with the successful July 22 test firing of Shehab III. Admiral Ali Shamkhani the defence minister of Iran had said that 'the successful test firing of Shehab III by Iran has created a defence and security balance in the Gulf against outside forces.' The outside forces by implication are that of Israel and US. The US-Israeli threat to the sovereignty of regional countries could be averted by the promotion of peace and unity, and not by show of force against each other. Indigenous defence production capability and missile capability of a defensive nature is vital in the present regional environment. Iran's achievements in the missile field especially the test of Shehab III should be a matter of satisfaction for Pakistan. Iranian people and leaders were delighted on the testing of Pakistani Ghauri missile. With ranges of 800 and 900 miles respectively. Shehab III and Ghauri are defensive systems, and a deterrent against Israeli missile attack. Admiral Shamkhani has stressed that 'Iran's policy is to continue research and production of missiles based on Irans security needs. At present there is no need for ballistic missiles of greater ranges. Iran at present has no need for the production of 'Shehab IV' ballistic missile.' Iran has affirmed that its SSM's and IRBM Shehab III are fitted with non-nuclear conventional warheads.

US-Israeli and French rumours about Iran's missile and nuclear capability are motivated canards. After multi-billion US military assistance, aircraft, missile and nuclear technology transfers, nuclear armed Israel has emerged as the most powerful state in the ME. Israeli nukes fitted atop Israeli SSM's and IRBMs target most Arab and Iranian cities. During the last twenty years Israeli Air Force has been used ruthlessly to attack nuclear installations in Iraq and civilian targets in Lebanon, killing and injuring thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian men, women and children. Israel has repeatedly threatened to destroy Iranian military installations by pre-emptive air strikes. The danger of Israeli air strike on Pakistani nuclear installations before the May 28 and May 31 nuclear tests was confirmed by intelligence agencies. With 682 US supplied nuclear weapon capable strike aircraft (205 F-16's, 64 F-15's, 40 Kafirs, 95 F-4E Phantoms, and 140 A-4N's) the Israeli Air Force is more powerful than the combined Arab and Iranian Air Forces. The 1997 eight billion Israeli defence budget was supplemented by four billion US foreign military assistance to purchase new equipment and defence R&D from the United States. US backed and supported Israel is the real menace to the security of ME, West Africa, Iran and Pakistan. Denied modern weapons and spares Iran's military lacks stamina for an offensive war. Its capability is purely defensive.

Before the Islamic revolution the US was engaged in nuclearalizing Iran. The late Shah's plans in the early 70's to construct twenty nuclear stations were approved by Washington. Construction of a 1300 megawatt power plant at Bushehr was started by Germany's Kraftwerke Union, a Siemens subsidiary, with technology and major components supplied by several US suppliers at exorbitant prices. The US had planned to earn trillion of dollars from nuclear power plant contracts in Iran. But the Islamic revolution undid plans to make Iran into permanent US-Israeli hostage. Work on the Bushehr nuclear power project was started in 1976. Work was halted after the 1979 Islamic revolution. By then 80 percent work on the Bushehr plant had been completed. During the period 1980-88 the two 1300 mega-watt reactors at Bushehr were repeatedly bombed by the Iraqi Air Force with US spy satellites fed info. After the war efforts of the Islamic Republic to persuade Kraftwerke to resume work at the plant were turned down by the Federal German government.

Iran turned to Russia and a $800 million agreement was signed in Tehran on January 08, 1995 to complete the unfinished nuclear power plant on the Persian Gulf coast. Under the Russian-Iran agreement, one nuclear reactor of 1000 MW was to be made operational within four years. Under intense US pressure Moscow backed out from the agreement to build the 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant at Bushehr. On January 05, 1995 US and Israeli officials claimed that Iran was within five years of producing a nuclear weapon device. This was a lie because in January, 95 Iran did not have even one nuclear reactor. What an irony that for the pro-Israeli Shah's regime Washington had okayed the construction of twenty nuclear power plants, but even the reconstruction of one peaceful nuclear power plant was scuttled by the US with malicious propaganda against the Islamic regime in Iran.

In January 1996 Iran test fired a Chinese built C802 short (95 KM) range surface to surface cruise missile in the North Arabian sea. Vice Admiral Scott Redd Commander US naval forces Central Command immediately pronounced that this test had created 'a new threat dimension'. He added that 'Iran is the long-term strategic threat for the whole area.' It is astonishing that Iranian tactical SSM's and Kaman and Hudong class missile boats are a regional threat, while the 5th US Naval Fleet with scores of combat ships including armed to the teeth aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, and submarines able to launch SLBM's with thermonuclear warheads, and immense Israeli military power are not a threat!

The game plan should be amply clear. Chop the wings of developing middle powers of the region to maintain US-Israeli hegemony over oil rich Gulf states and potentially rich and powerful Iran. US sanctions against Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are part of US-Israeli regional strategy of domination and encirclement. End to polarization acrimony and animosity should be the top priority of the regional states to enable them to break-out of the ever tightening US-Israeli noose.