Iran’s launch of a two-stage ballistic missile today, a dramatic demonstration of its growing missile capabilities, was timed to send a message of defiance to Iran’s external adversaries and to boost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election prospects in Iran’s upcoming elections. It is yet another reminder, if any is required, that the United States urgently must invest in missile defense to blunt Iran’s growing missile threat.
The launch came shortly after President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and announced a common commitment to halting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad himself announced the successful test in a speech in Semnan, from where the missile reportedly was launched. Not only does the bellicose Iranian leader stand to gain votes in Iran’s June 12 elections from his latest round of missile-rattling, but he also sought to exploit it internationally by inviting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to join him at the launch site, instead of in Tehran as previously scheduled – an invitation that Mr. Frattini correctly refused.
Iran claimed that the Sejil-2 missile it launched is part of a new generation of solid fuel ballistic missiles that have a range of about 1200 miles, long enough to target Israel, Egypt, southeastern Europe, and many American bases in the Middle East. The missile test is the latest piece of evidence that Iran’s ballistic missile force, already the largest in the Middle East, continues to grow more deadly. This trend, taken together with Tehran’s accelerating uranium enrichment program, underscores the growing importance of missile defense for the United States and its allies.