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According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), "Iran's ballistic missiles challenge U.S. military capabilities and U.S. influence in the Middle East." U.S. intelligence indicates that "Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, and is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload." The Pentagon also believes that Iran's missiles threaten "U.S. forces, allies, and partners in regions where the United States deploys forces and maintains security relationships." (Congressional Research Service, December 2012).
The National Council of the Resistance of Iran, an Iranian opposition group, said that, beginning in 1989, North Korea helped Iran build dozens of underground tunnels and facilities for the construction of nuclear-capable missiles (ABC News, November 21, 2005). According to an intelligence assessment from July 2005, Iran was aggressively trying to obtain the expertise, training, and equipment for developing a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe (Guardian, January 4, 2006).
Iran was the third most active country in flight-testing missiles in 2007, behind Russia and China. "They're developing ranges of missiles that go far beyond anything they would need in a regional fight, for example, with Israel," according to the head of the United States' missile defense program Lt. Gen. Henry Obering said. "Why are they developing missiles today that will be possible to reach Europe in few years?" (Associated Press, January 17, 2008). Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in September 2009: "The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran's short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected. This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies" (US Department of Defense, September 17, 2009). Iran claims the Shahab-3 is entirely Iranian-made, but U.S. officials say the missile is based on the North Korean "No Dong" missile design and produced in Iran. The United States also accuses China of assisting Iran's missile program.
In May 2009, Iran tested a new missile, the Sejil (Ashura), with a range of 1,200 miles, meaning that it could reach Israel, U.S. regional bases and southeastern Europe (The Peninsula, May 21, 2009). The Sejil is similar to the Shahab-3, which was unveiled in September 2007. That missile's range had been improved from 810 to 1,125 miles JTA, September 23, 2007). The missile, which is capable of carrying a non-conventional warhead, could be stationed anywhere in Iran and reach Israel as well as parts of Europe. "I won't say the Iranians will be able to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles in the near future," said Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, "but they will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe" (RIA Novosti, March 12, 2009).
Iran reportedly tested a Shahab-4 missile designed to have a range of 4,000 kilometers in January 2006. In addition, Iranian opposition figure Alireza Jafarzadeh told the AP that Iran is now producing 90 Shahab-3 missiles, more than four times its previous production rate (Scotsman.com, March 2, 2006). In January 2007, the deputy director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said North Korea and Iran are cooperating in developing long-range missiles. Iran, he said, is also working on a space launcher that could allow it to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the U.S. (Washington Times, January 30, 2007). Iran said in November 2007, it had built a new missile with a range of 1,250 miles (Reuters, November 27, 2007).
In 2010, the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that Iran "continues to develop ballistic missiles capable of targeting Arab adversaries, Israel, and central Europe, including Iranian claims of an extended-range variant of the Shahab-3 and a 2,000-km medium range ballistic missile (MRBM), the Ashura. Beyond the steady growth in its missile and rocket inventories, Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems with accuracy improvements and sub-munition payloads."
British Foreign Minister William Hague told Parliament in June 2011 that Iran had conducted three secret tests of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929. It was reported that Iran launched a Shahab-3 missile and one or two Sejil-1 missiles. The UK believed Iran wanted to avoid attracting attention to the tests of these medium-range missiles (Associated Press, June 29, 2011).
Iran also reportedly has an arsenal of cruise missiles. In March 2005, Ukraine admitted that it had exported to Iran cruise missiles that are capable of reaching Israel and carrying nuclear weapons. In 2001, 12 Soviet-era X-55 cruise missiles with a range of 3,500 kilometers were exported to Iran. Israel is also concerned that Teheran is developing its own cruise missile to evade interception by the Arrow, the IDF's anti-ballistic missile defense system (Jerusalem Post, May 6, 2008).
CRS noted that a major concern is that Iran's neighbors do not have missile defenses or the ability to deter an Iranian attack. This could allow Iran to "blackmail such states into meeting demands, for example, to raise oil prices, cut oil production or even withhold cooperation with the U.S. on which their very survival depends." Any Iranian interference with Gulf oil exports would adversely effect oil prices and be difficult for the United States to prevent.
Iran has also made it difficult for any attacker to eliminate the missile threat by spreading launch complexes around the country.
Yet another concern is Iran's development of a space launch capability. Iran became just the ninth country to demonstrate this capability when it launched the Omid satellite from a Safir-2 rocket. Though the satellite ultimately crashed into the ocean, the launch was an indication that Iran was making progress toward developing long-range ballistic missiles. Additional satellites have been launched and more are planned with capabilities for communication, reconnaissance, remote sensing and imaging. CRS noted that the Iranian space launch program is "a matter of national pride and self-sufficency in space in the face of widespread international condemnation." CRS also warned that Iran, like other space faring countries, "will use space for a range of military purposes, such as for reconnaissance and comunications."
The CRS study concluded that "Iran has not shown that it is deterred or dissuaded by U.S. conventional military superiority, or by U.S. and international sanctions, or by the deployment of U.S. BMD [ballistic missile defense] capabilities."
In April 2013, "G8 Foreign Ministers expressed their deep concern regarding Iran's continuing nuclear and ballistic missile activities in violation of numerous UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions (G8 Meeting, April 11, 2013). Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast condemned the statement and said: "Iran's missiles program is in line with the country's defense doctrine for the legitimate defense and protection of Iran's national sovereignty and territorial integrity and it is not a threat to any country" (FARS News Agency, April 18, 2013). As if to prove the point, Deputy Defense Minister General Majid Boka'i said Iran has redesigned ground-to-ground missiles and developed homemade anti-ship ballistic missiles for targeting enemy ships (Siasatrooz, April 18, 2013).
In August 2013, Jane’s Intelligence Review reported that satellite imagery showed extensive construction over the last three years at a site that Jane’s believes is a launch tower and pad that can be to test ballistic missiles (Peyke Iran, August 9, 2013).
Despite any successes or failures in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, the Iranian missile program is moving forward at a steady pace. In May 2013 Iranian officials unveiled a domestically developed transporter-erecter-launcher (TEL) system for their Shahab-3 missiles, making their missile arsenal more mobile and easily disguised. The development of a multiple reentry vehicle (MRV) attachment for the Shahab-3 missiles and newer longer range Qiam missiles was unveiled in February 2014. The MRV attachments allow the missiles to carry multiple warheads and strike many different targets at once, in contrast to a single warhead carried on a single missile hitting a single target. Also unveiled in 2014 was the Iranian Kadr F missile, capable of striking targets up to 1950 kilometers away.
In a report published in October 2014 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), evidence was presented that suggests that the Iranian military had begun to put GPS guidance systems on their Zelal-2 warhead, with a range of only 210 kilometers. The report claims that Iran could easily do the same with longer range missiles, making them much more accurate and significantly increasing the likelyhood that Iran could carry out successful devastating missile attacks. Israel missile defense expert Uzi Rubin stated that this threat must not be underestimated, and these GPS guided missiles “can degrade the [Israeli military’s] ground capabilities... can paralyze Israel’s war economy, and inflict massive casualties." (Aviation Week, February 17, 2015)
Iran's Revolutionary Gaurd announced hat they had test fired a new missile named the "Great Prophet 9" in the Strait of Hormuz on February 26, 2015 as part of a large scale naval and air defense drill. The drill also included an attack on a simulated American aircraft carrier. The Naval Chief of the Revolutionary Gaurd, Adm Ali Fadavi, stated after the drill that “the new weapon will have a very decisive role in adding our naval power in confronting threats, particular by the Great Satan, the United States.” (The Washington Post, February 27, 2015)
During the week following the announcement of a framework agreement aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear capabilities, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree lifting a ban on the delivery of S-300 anti-missile systems to Iran. According to Russian officials the arms embargo was no longer needed due to progress made during the nuclear negotiations. The countries have been in talks regarding the sale since 2007, and the Russian government cancelled the original delivery of these missile systems in 2010 due to international pressure eminating from sanctions imposed on Iran. American officials including Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concerns over the Russian decision.(Haaretz, April 13, 2015) Russian officials announced at the 2015 Dubai air show on November 9, 2015, that they and Iran had signed a contract for the delivery of the missile system earlier in the month. The deal, estimated to be worth $800 million, was delayed more than 9 years.
Announcing that “we will have a new ballistic missile test in the near future that will be a thorn in the eyes of our enemies,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unveiled a new missile, known as the Fateh 313 during a press conference for Iran's Defense Industry Day on August 22, 2015. The missile has a range of 310 miles and is one of the most accurate missiles in the Iranian arsenal. During the press conference, Rouhani proudly proclaimed, “We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that. We can negotiate with other countries only when we are powerful. If a country does not have power and independence, it cannot seek real peace.” (Reuters, August 22, 2015)
On August 13, 2015, Iranian Brigadier General Ahmad Pourdastan announced that during the coming months Iran was going to be staging six “war-game” drills, featuring domestically produced missiles. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stated during the following week that Iranian scientists were “producing all ballistic missile ranges,” for the Iranian aerospace industry. He went on to assert that Iran is, “considering the design, research, and production of [missiles] that are highly destructive, highly accurate, radar evasive, and tactical.”
In violation of a United Nations ban on testing of missiles that could possibly deliver a nuclear warhead, Iran tested a new missile known as the Emad in early October 2015. The Emad is a precision-guided long range missile, and is the first guided weapon in Iran's arsenal capable of striking Israel. It is estimated that the missile has a range of over 1,000 miles and an accuracy range of within 1,600 feet. Israeli Military professional Uzi Rubin stated cautiously that, “The Emad represents a major leap in terms of accuracy. It has an advanced guidance and control system in its nose cone.” (Reuters, October 11, 2015)
The Iranian Fars News agency published pictures and video of an underground Iranian missile testing facility on October 14, 2015, offering a fleeting glimpse into what lies in the secret tunnels under Iran's mountains. Footage released by the news agency showed IRGC soldiers standing with large missiles in a facility reportedly dug over 1,600 feet into the side of a mountain. (CNN, October 15, 2015) You can find the video below.
Iran test-fired two Qadr H missiles with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out,” emblazoned on the sides on March 7, 2016. The missile test coincided with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel to discuss upcoming aid packages. The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, made it clear that the missile test was intended to intimidate Israel, stating “The 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) range of our missiles is to confront the Zionist regime. Israel is surrounded by Islamic countries and it will not last long in a war. It will collapse even before being hit by these missiles.” (Time Magazine, March 7, 2016)
Iranian officials announced that they had tested a significantly more accurate ballistic missile with a 2,000-kilometer range on May 9, 2016. The missile tested in early May can be remote-guided to an accuracy of within 8 meters of it's target, according to Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi.
Iran test-fired a North Korean BM-25 Musudan ballistic missile on July 11, 2016, which exploded shortly after launch.