Iran test-fired a new kind of ballistic missile using North Korean technology on the night of July 11-12, Fox News reported on Friday, citing multiple intelligence officials. The latest test, the ninth Iran carried out since it reached a nuclear deal with global powers last year, was held two days before the one-year anniversary of the deal’s announcement.
The missile was fired from the city of Saman in western Iran and was a modified version of North Korea’s Musudan ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,500 miles — putting nearly all of the Middle East (including Israel) and much of mainland Europe within reach.
Iran’s previous launch, in May, featured a missile with an estimated range of around 1,250 miles. Another launch, in March, included a missile with a range of around 870 miles that had the phrase “Israel must be wiped from the face of the earth” inscribed on it in Hebrew.
Iran’s continued ballistic missile tests are being carried out in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which codified last year’s nuclear deal and calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The resolution also says that Iran must abide by previous Security Council resolutions, which placed restrictions on ballistic missile work until 2023.
NATO leaders said in a joint communique last week that they were “seriously concerned by the development of Iran’s ballistic missile programme and continuing missile tests that are inconsistent with [Resolution] 2231.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi replied on Monday that NATO’s statement was “a repetition of past baseless allegations.”
Not only does not Iran’s missile program have anything to do with the [nuclear deal]…, but also, as reiterated numerous times, it is not in breach of Resolution 2231, either. As declared repetitively, our country’s missile capabilities merely fall within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s legitimate defense program, and [the missiles] are by no means designed to carry nuclear warheads.
Iran launched its missile that night.
“Iran’s behavior hasn’t significantly changed as a result of the nuclear agreement,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the Baghdad-based chief of United States Central Command, told Fox News on Thursday. “They continue to pursue malign activities, and they continue to foment instability in areas where we need stability so I remain concerned about that continued behavior.”
An Iranian missile launch in October was officially found by the Security Council to be in violation of the resolutions, but the United States and the European Union have stopped short of classifying subsequent launches as violations. The Washington Post editorial board wrote in April that the Obama administration should work harder at penalizing Iran for its ballistic missile violations.
Tehran’s behavior comes as no surprise to the many observers who predicted the deal would not alter its hostility to the West or its defiance of international norms. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s response has also been much as critics predicted: It has done its best to play down Iran’s violations and avoid any conflict out of fear that the regime might walk away from a centerpiece of President Obama’s legacy.
The House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday that would place new sanctions on Iran due to its continued work on its ballistic missile program. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) plans to introduce similar legislation, which he says already has bipartisan support, in the Senate.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency publicly reported earlier this week that Iran is engaging in “illegal proliferation-sensitive procurement activities in Germany … at what is, even by international standards, a quantitatively high level.” The report also noted “a further increase in the already considerable procurement efforts in connection with Iran’s ambitious missile technology program which could, among other things, potentially serve to deliver nuclear weapons. Against this backdrop it is safe to expect that Iran will continue it sensitive procurement activities in Germany using clandestine methods to achieve its objectives.”
“Iran continued unabated to develop its rocket program in conflict with the relevant provisions of the UN Security Council,” German chancellor Angela Merkel told her parliament last week. She added that NATO would further develop its anti-missile system stationed in Romania, as well as its planned station in Poland, in response to Iran’s missile program.
In Why is Iran Testing Ballistic Missiles After the Nuclear Deal?, which was published in this month’s issue of The Tower Magazine, defense analyst Dan Feferman explained how Iran’s missile program fits into its overall military strategy:
While Iran’s missiles are viewed in the West primarily as a vehicle for nuclear weapons, for Iran they also serve a crucial aspect of its conventional military strategy. And this isn’t expected to change so long as it lacks a serious air force for years to come. If its arsenal improves in accuracy and dependability, as is believed to the be Iran’s goal, Iran may never need to turn to the far more expensive option of acquiring and maintaining an advanced air force, as have Iran’s Gulf rivals and Israel.
In this sense, missiles fill crucial roles in Iran’s defense strategy. First, they act as a deterrent against regional adversaries and American allies, be it Israel or a Saudi-led Gulf coalition (hence the posturing, parades, and press releases). While perhaps not as entirely effective as a pin-point air-strike, a volley of missiles, even conventional, can have a serious psychological effect on an enemy population, not to mention the occasional “lucky hit” on strategic infrastructure. Secondly, as mentioned, it provides Iran’s only capability today to project force beyond its borders. Thirdly, it provides an effective way to supply proxies, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, who have enjoyed the largesse of Iranian rockets, training, and funding for years. These offer Iran an added measure of deterrence against Israel, as well as deniability. Israel, for its part, also prefers taking on Iran through these proxies, as it did in 2006 against Hezbollah, and a number of times, including in 2014, against Hamas. In each of these contests, Israeli civilians had to take cover in bomb shelters as Iranian rockets rained down. But deniability is a two-sided coin—and Israel can intercept Iranian arms shipments in Syria and Lebanon while avoiding an outright conflict with Tehran.
According to Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Iran’s missile arsenal includes tactical short range rockets, such as the Fajr, Zelzal, and Noor—which it supplies to Hamas and Hezbollah; hundreds of medium-range Shahabs 1, 2 and 3 (ranging from 300-1,300 kilometers); and the long-range, 2,000-kilometer Qiams and Qadrs. It’s also working on developing the Sejjil, which when operational will extend beyond 2,000 kilometers, potentially reaching southern Europe (this may be the missile that was tested in April). Iran has already developed the Safir, which was used to launch four satellites into space, and could readily serve as the base for an ICBM. Add to this an operational cruise missile capability with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers.
For more on Iran’s history of military cooperation with North Korea, read How Iran and North Korea Became Cyber-Terror Buddies by Claudia Rosett, which was published in the January 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine. Rosett described the two rogue nations’ history of joint missile development.
In recent decades, this relationship has proven particularly fruitful. In 1992, for example, a North Korean freighter slipped past U.S. Navy surveillance and delivered a cargo of Scud missiles to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. In 2003, a North Korean defector testified before Congress that he traveled from North Korea to Iran in 1989 and helped the Iranians test-fire a North Korean missile. In 2007, a secret State Department cable made public by Wikileaks stated,
Iran and North Korea have continued their longstanding cooperation on ballistic missile technology via air-shipments of ballistic-missile related items. We assess that some of the shipments consist of ballistic missile jet vanes that frequently transit Beijing on regularly scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air.
In 2010, a Congressional Research Service report by analyst Larry A. Niksch estimated that “North Korea earns about $1.5 billion annually from missile sales to other countries. It appears that much of this comes from missile sales and collaboration with Iran in missile development.” Also in 2010, the New York Timesreported that Iran obtained 19 missiles from North Korea that were “much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.” This too was based on a classified State Department cable made public by Wikileaks. In 2013, a report from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center stated, “Iran has an extensive missile development program, and has received support from entities in Russia, China, and North Korea.” Among Iran’s ballistic missiles is the intermediate-range Shahab 3, based on North Korea’s No Dong missile, with a range long enough to strike Israel.
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