Back in October, Iran put the Obama administration in a tough spot. Tehran test-fired a next generation, surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
The new weapon - dubbed “Emad” - is capable of hitting arch nemesis Israel and although the launch didn’t violate the letter of the nuclear accord, it did apparently violate a UN resolution and that, in turn, prompted a number of US lawmakers to call for a fresh set of sanctions on Tehran.
Of course this isn’t the best time to be slapping the Iranians with more sanctions, which is presumably why The White House delayed a decision on the matter last week.
First, the implementation of the nuclear deal is supposed to bring sanctions relief for Tehran. Any new punitive measures will jeopardize the agreement. If the deal falls apart, it would be a severe blow to Obama’s presidential legacy.
Furthermore, heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia in connection with the latter’s decision to execute a prominent Shiite cleric, have plunged the Muslim world into chaos. Were the US to hit Iran with sanctions now, it might very well come across as a kind of backdoor way of supporting the Saudi position in the middle of a worsening diplomatic crisis.
Knowing that Washington is in a bind, the Iranians have pushed ahead with their vaunted ballistic missile program. As we’ve noted on a number of occasions, Iran has one of the largest ballistic missile arsenals in the Middle East. Here’s the breakdown courtesy of the US Institute Of Peace:
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.
In fact, Iran's missile cache is so large, they're running out of places to "hide" them. "We lack enough space in our stockpiles to house our missiles," General Hossein Salami said on Friday. "Hundreds of long tunnels are full of missiles ready to fly to protect your integrity, independence and freedom," he added.
Yes, "hundreds of tunnels", like those we highlighted in "Caught On Tape: Inside Iran's Secret Underground Missile Tunnels."
The video shown above was first shown on the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) channel whose cameras were permitted inside the underground base.
“Those who threaten Iran with their military option on the table would better take a look at Iran’s ‘options under the table,’ namely the missile arsenals. Iran’s known military power is only the tip of the iceberg," the Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told reporters.
On Tuesday, we got a look at yet another Iranian "missile city" when Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani inaugurated a new site. Here's footage from the event:
As Middle East Eye reports, the new "city" will be used to store the Emad: "Iran's military has revealed a secret underground 'missile city' used to store a new generation of ballistic missiles which the US says are 'nuclear capable' and whose test-firing last year broke a UN resolution." Here's more:
The Revolutionary Guards Corps on Tuesday released pictures and video of the underground bunker after a visit by Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.
Iran's Tasnim news agency said the bunker, which it dubbed a 'missile city', stores the Emad ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,000km and was first successfully tested on October 10. The US says the missiles are advanced enough to be fitted with nuclear warheads.
It is the second such bunker to be publicised in three months, after the Guards in October revealed a facility dug into an unnamed mountain to store and protect Iran's advanced weaponry.
Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Guards's aerospace division, said the facility was only one of many bases scattered across the country.
The publicising of the existence of the bunker comes at a sensitive time in relations between Iran and world powers, who signed an agreement in July to largely curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions.
And that, in short, should tell you everything you need to know about the degree to which Tehran is prepared to negotiate with Washington vis-a-vis the country's ballistic missile program.
Iran has always maintained its missile arsenal is for defensive purposes only and thus represents a completely legitimate effort to protect the country from the myriad hostile states in the region. The events that unfolded over the weekend underscore why Tehran is so keen on bolstering its defenses.
But defensive or no, the video shown above represents yet another slap in the face for the Obama administration and will only serve to infuriate already irate lawmakers in the US who, unlike the administration, aren't in the mood to make any new "friends" in the Mid-East.