US Misrepresents Iran's Missile Threat

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

"Ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a range of 300 kilometers are inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons."  This is a quote from a top US official, dated February 1, 2017, who has portrayed Iran's missile program as "destabilizing to the region," and thus justifying the new US unilateral sanctions on Iran over its recent missile test.  These new sanctions are clearly yet another stab at the Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump in his recent telephone conference with the Saudi leader promised to vigorously defend, despite his campaign rhetoric to the contrary.

Clearly, Trump is "reverting to pillars of Obama policies" including Iran, per a New York Times report on February 3rd, and his Secretary of State Tillerson has likely won the day with his call for a "review period."  But, Trump ought to know that a minimum of civility and detente is required between US and Iran as a sine qua non for the longevity of the nuclear accord.  In a nutshell, Trump cannot have it both ways, stick to the deal and yet increasingly undermine it by escalating threats against Iran. Should he continue on this rather bifurcated approach, the nuclear deal will sooner or later fall apart. In other words, Washington is the one playing with fire not Iran.

With respect to the missile "threat," the anonymous US national security official quoted in the US media is horribly wrong about the basic facts regarding warheads.  First of there is no direct correlation between payload and range and, second, there is a consensus in the missile expert community that the smallest nuclear warhead weighs around 1000 kilogram whereas Iran's ballistic missiles have a maximum payload capability of around 700 kilograms, in other words, a nuclear payload is too heavy for them.  This information has been conveyed to the author by the US missile expert Mr. Theodore Postol recently. Add to this to the fact that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and its civilian nuclear program is tightly monitored by the international community.  Hypothetically speaking, looking at North Korea, which has a difficult time installing a nuclear warhead on its missiles, given the technological complexity, Iran is essentially light years away from the stage when it could possess a deliverable nuclear weapon even if it embarked on a nuclearization program. 

As for the alleged "destabilizing" impact of the Iranian missile in the region, in fact it is the other way around and Iran's missiles, which form a key component of national defense, directly contribute to a regional balance by offsetting the arms imbalance due to the air superiority of Iran's regional rivals, principally Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf Cooperation Council partners, who have purchased tens of billions of dollars of cutting-edge fighter jets from US and Europe, compared to Iran which is deprived of similar opportunity due to outside sanctions.  Introducing a balancing corrective to an egregious regional military imbalance, Iran's missile program acts as an effective deterrent vis-a-vis any potential GCC-led aggression, which must be taken into consideration by the Western governments giving lip service to Persian Gulf stability.

What is more, Iran's President Rouhani in 2016 hinted that Iran is not interested in developing long-range ballistic missiles and will self-limit to around 2000 kilometer. Thus, the perceived threat of Iran's missiles to US territory is clearly exaggerated and a figment of creative imagination, deliberately put forward as part and parcel of a designed Iranophobia.  Henceforth, if the Trump administration truly seeks a stable Persian Gulf he should take into consideration Iran's legitimate national security concerns, instead of displaying a total disregard for those concerns.

*More by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi:
*Trump’s ISIS Strategy in Pieces after Muslim Ban:
*Trump's Visa Ban: An Exercise in Iranophobia and Islamophobia:
*The Iran Accord and Middle East Modernism:

*Photo Credit: Reuters

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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