Iran’s Missile Tests Amplify Nuclear Alarm Bells
James Phillips /
Iran secretly has tested ballistic missiles that are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned yesterday. Britain believes Iran conducted at least three secret tests of medium-range missiles since October, more evidence of Iran’s accelerating missile buildup. Hague’s statement came the day after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed to have launched 14 missiles as part of the ongoing “Great Prophet 6,” 10 days of military exercises designed to showcase the Islamic Republic’s growing military strength.
Hague also expressed alarm at Iran’s plans to triple its capacity to enrich uranium to 20 percent, a higher level than is needed for civilian nuclear power. Tehran claims that it needs such highly enriched uranium to fuel its research reactor, but has no known means of transforming such uranium into fuel rods suitable for fueling the reactor. It is particularly suspicious that these uranium enrichment operations will take place inside a fortified mountain base near Qum—discovered by Western intelligence agencies in 2009 after it was covertly built without informing the International Atomic Energy Agency, a violation of Iran’s nuclear proliferation commitments. By enriching uranium to 20 percent, Iran will position itself for a much faster nuclear breakout, as it is much easier to enrich to the 90 percent level needed for nuclear weapons from uranium already enriched to 20 percent than from the 3 percent level used in most civilian nuclear reactors.
Iran also unveiled several new missile silos on Monday, and yesterday it claimed to have built a new long-range radar system capable of monitoring low-flying satellites. If true, such a radar system might enable the Revolutionary Guards to better conceal their nuclear and ballistic missile activities from Western intelligence satellites by giving them advance notice of when such satellites were due to pass over sensitive areas.
One of Iran’s most potentially dangerous new missiles is the Khalije Fars (“Persian Gulf”) anti-ship missile, which reportedly is a solid-fuel missile capable of hitting ships up to 350 kilometers away. Combined with airborne surveillance aircraft that could provide targeting data, this missile could pose a threat to U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships. One of the foremost experts on Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, Uzi Rubin, considers that such a missile capability could be “a game-changer” in the event of hostilities in the Persian Gulf between Iran and the United States.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration continues to downplay Iran’s progress on the ballistic missile and nuclear fronts. It maintains that international sanctions have slowed the momentum of Iran’s military buildup, despite mounting contradictory evidence.