Iran Defies Obama, Orders Expansion Of Missile Program

Earlier today, we outlined Washington's plan to slap new sanctions on Iran in connection the October test-firing of Tehran's next generation, surface-to-surface ballistic-missile Emad. 

Although the launch itself apparently didn't violate the letter of the nuclear deal, it did violate a UN ban on developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. That triggered an outcry from some members of Congress who feel that the Emad launch amounted to a slap in the face for both the US and Israel considering the ink is barely dry on the nuke accord.

Bowing to the pressure, the Obama administration will now move to sanction around a dozen individuals and companies with ties to Tehran's missile program. 

For its part, Tehran vigorously defends its right to develop what it says are "defensive" weapons. Shortly after the Emad was first test-fired, Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said Iran “doesn’t ask anyone’s permission to enhance its defense power or missile capability and will firmly pursue our defense plans, particularly in the field of missiles.”

As a reminder, Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the region according to the ironically-named US Institute Of Peace, and on Thursday, an indignant Rouhani has now ordered Dehghan to "expedite" the missile program.


As Reuters reports, "President Hassan Rouhani ordered his defence minister on Thursday to expand Iran's missile programme, in response to a U.S. threat to impose sanctions over a ballistic missile test Iran carried out in October." 

"As the U.S. government is clearly still pursuing its hostile policies and illegal meddling ... the armed forces need to quickly and significantly increase their missile capability," he said, in a letter to Dehghan.

This is precisely what Obama's advisors knew would happen in the event the US moved to "punish" Iran for the Emad launch and should Iran press ahead in defiance, The White House's precious, "landmark" nuclear accord could explode upon liftoff. 

We'll close with what we said in October: "...imposing sanctions on countries in order to deter their defense buildup (Iran) or otherwise force them into acting in a way that fits your definition of being an internationally responsible country (Russia) is a fool's errand to the extent that it only serves to aggravate the situation and perpetuates still more of the very same behavior you're trying to deter in the first place."

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Bonus: a snapshot of Iran's missile arsenal

  • Shahab missiles: Since the late 1980s, Iran has purchased additional short- and medium-range missiles from foreign suppliers and adapted them to its strategic needs. The Shahabs, Persian for “meteors,” were long the core of Iran’s program. They use liquid fuel, which involves a time-consuming launch. They include:
  • The Shahab-1 is based on the Scud-B. (The Scud series was originally developed by the Soviet Union). It has a range of about 300 kms or 185 miles
  • The Shahab-2 is based on the Scud-C. It has a range of about 500 kms, or 310 miles. In mid-2010, Iran is widely estimated to have between 200 and 300 Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles capable of reaching targets in neighboring countries.
  • The Shahab-3 is based on the Nodong, which is a North Korean missile. It has a range of about 900 km or 560 miles. It has a nominal payload of 1,000 kg. A modified version of the Shahab-3, renamed the Ghadr-1, began flight tests in 2004. It theoretically extends Iran’s reach to about 1,600 km or 1,000 miles, which qualifies as a medium-range missile. But it carries a smaller, 750-kg warhead.
  • Although the Ghadr-1 was built with key North Korean components, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani boasted at the time, “Today, by relying on our defense industry capabilities, we have been able to increase our deterrent capacity against the military expansion of our enemies.”
  • Sajjil missiles: Sajjil means “baked clay” in Persian. These are a class of medium-range missiles that use solid fuel, which offer many strategic advantages. They are less vulnerable to preemption because the launch requires shorter preparation – minutes rather than hours. Iran is the only country to have developed missiles of this range without first having developed nuclear weapons.
  • This family of missiles centers on the Sajjil-2, a domestically produced surface-to-surface missile. It has a medium-range of about 2,000 km or 1,200 miles when carrying a 750-kg warhead. It was test fired in 2008 under the name, Sajjil. The Sajjil-2, which is probably a slightly modified version, began test flights in 2009. This missile would allow Iran to “target any place that threatens Iran,” according to Brig. Gen. Abdollah Araghi, a Revolutionary Guard commander. 
  • The Sajjil-2, appears to have encountered technical issues and its full development has slowed. No flight tests have been conducted since 2011. IfSajjil-2 flight testing resumes, the missile’s performance and reliability could be proven within a year or two. The missile, which is unlikely to become operational before 2017, is the most likely nuclear delivery vehicle—if Iran decides to develop an atomic bomb. But it would need to build a bomb small enough to fit on the top of this missile, which would be a major challenge.
  • The Sajjil program’s success indicates that Iran’s long-term missile acquisition plans are likely to focus on solid-fuel systems. They are more compact and easier to deploy on mobile launchers. They require less time to prepare for launch, making them less vulnerable to preemption by aircraft or other missile defense systems.
  • Iran could attempt to use Sajjil technologies to produce a three-stage missile capable of flying 3,700 km or 2,200 miles. But it is unlikely to be developed and actually fielded before 2017.