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How Moderate Are Iran’s Missiles?

Complacence about Iran’s nuclear program is based on three assumptions that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of them are, at best, questionable and are embraced by some in the foreign policy establishment and the left largely because to believe in them absolves one of any obligation to act to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambition. They are: that Iran is either not really building a nuke or that it can be talked or bargained out of it; that even if Iran gets nukes it would never use them; and lastly that even if Iran had nukes, they couldn’t effectively deliver one to a target, whether in Israel, a moderate Arab nation, or somewhere in the West.

The growing stockpile of evidence of nuclear weapons-grade uranium and work on military uses of nuclear power such as triggers make the first assumption ridiculous, as does the more than a decade of failed negotiations that illustrated that Iran only views talks as a method to gain time and to deceive the West. The brutal nature of the regime, its willingness to fund terrorism, and the fanatical theocratic views of its leaders, at the very least, cast doubt on the second assumption.

As for the third argument, that was actually the strongest argument in favor of complacence, but a report published by the Times of Israel now makes that assumption seem like a bad bet:

Western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the Iranians.

The IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre published a photo taken last month of the newly discovered site, which is located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

Analysts at the Centre said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told The Telegraph: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

Like the claims that their nuclear program’s purpose is for power production (in an oil rich country?) or medical research, the notion that Iran is building missiles for space was always laughable. But there is nothing funny about the prospect of a nation that is getting closer every day to nuclear weapons capability being able to build a ballistic missile that could, at least in theory, reach Europe or even the United States. While worries about Iranian missiles are not new, this latest report should put any decision to invest another year in fruitless diplomacy with Iran because of the election of a supposed moderate as president in perspective.

The report about the missile notes that in the past the United States has worried that Iran could be able to test a ballistic missile by the end of 2015. That hasn’t been a priority for Western intelligence up until this point. But once Iran has weapons capability—and they may well have accumulated more than enough enriched uranium to that purpose long before that moment—the question of Iran’s delivery capacity will become paramount.

Right now, the world is focused on new President Hassan Rouhani and the Obama administration seems determined to give him a chance to prove his alleged moderation by giving diplomacy another try. Rouhani’s personal role in using talks as a delaying tactic is a matter of record. But the latest news about Iran’s military research illustrates the fact that the costs of months or even years of delay before the United States decides that it must act could be considerable.

A nuclear weapon would not make Iran a superpower or anything like it. But a nuclear Iran with missiles that can reach not just regional targets but those on other continents changes the equation of this problem. Though Israel is the understandable focus of much of the concerns about Iranian weapons, the development of sophisticated weapons should serve as reminder to Americans that their security is as much at stake in this standoff as that of the Jewish state. The idea of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei possessing both missiles and potential nuclear weapons ought to scare the daylights out of all Americans. It should also help dispel the illusions fostered by the false assumptions that buttress the complacence that so many in Washington exhibit on this issue. 



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