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RIA Novosti
September 30, 2009
Do Iranian missiles pose potential or real threat?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Media outlets from around the world are discussing Iran's new missile tests. It is clear that the Islamic Republic is continuing to develop its missile arsenal. What capabilities have Iranian missiles reached by now?

On September 27 and 28, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps conducted a series of military exercises code-named "The Great Prophet IV," in the course of which Iranian officials revealed they had conducted a series of missile tests. The Iranian media reports that the military tested the Fateh and Tondar short-range ballistic missiles and multiple rocket launchers on the first day of the exercises, and test-fired Shahab-3 and Sejil missiles, their most powerful ballistic missiles, on the second.

Experts have many questions about the Sejil missiles. Many of them believe that a separate Sejil project does not exist, and that Iran periodically launches its Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles disguised as Sejil or Sejil-2 to mislead observers.

The Shahab-3 missile is capable of striking targets in Israel, Asia Minor, the Balkans, and Russia. Today, it is the most powerful missile in Iran's arsenal.

Iran also has many short-range missiles (with ranges of up to 300 kilometres) both guided and non-guided, which could be used against both targets behind enemy lines and on the battlefield. Terrorists use some Iranian unguided missiles with a range of up to 30 to 40 kilometres to attack Israel from adjacent areas.

The missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometres that are being developed in Iran are primarily based on the technology of the old Soviet R-17 missile, which is known in the West as the Scud. At one time, Iran bought them from Libya and North Korea. Iran used upgraded Korean R-17 versions to develop its medium-range ballistic missiles.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards received its first ballistic missiles in 1985. Before long, Iran started firing them at Iraqi cities in response to the latter's attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. Scud-B missiles were launched intensively during a 52-day period in 1988, which came to be known as "the war of the cities". At that time, Iran launched 77 Scud-B missiles against Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Tikrit.

Later on, Iran used Scuds to develop its Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles, with a range of 350 kilometres and 750 kilometres respectively, and began designing its Shahab-3 missile, which has a range of over 2,000 kilometres.

Iran used the Shahab-3 missile to develop the Safir carrier rocket, which put the first Iranian satellite Omid into orbit. Iran is believed to be working on an intercontinental missile as part of this project.

Iran relies extensively on technological assistance from foreign countries in developing its missiles, primarily on China and North Korea. In addition to technological assistance, China supplies Iran with CSS-8 ballistic missiles with a range of up to 180 kilometres. With China's help, Iran has been very successful in upgrading its missiles. Thus, the Nazeat-10 tactical missile, which has been a part of Revolutionary Guards' arsenal since 1996, has been upgraded so that it can hit targets up to 300 kilometres away (its former range was 163 kilometres) and renamed the Fateh-110A.

The Iranian missile program was one of the most important official justifications for the U.S. plan to deploy its missile defence shield. The reality of the Iranian missile threat and the resources necessary to counteract a potential strike are crucial issues in the long-standing discussion on the missile defence shield.

Russia has repeatedly suggested considering the possibility of deploying missile interceptors in the direct proximity of Iran's borders, for instance, in Turkey, Kuwait, and probably Iraq, as an alternative to a third missile defence positioning area in Europe. This would make it much easier to intercept missiles launched from Iran, and would not pose a threat for Russia's nuclear missile power and the global nuclear balance.

The United States has recently changed its position on missile defence. Barack Obama's administration is now planning to deploy sea- and ground-based missile interceptors in Europe. They will be capable of destroying medium-range missile warheads but will not threaten Russian ICBMs.

Russia is also concerned about protecting itself against the threat of medium-range missiles. Considering possible changes in Tehran's policy, Iran's missiles may endanger our security. In these circumstances, consolidation of national air defence and cooperation with other countries in building a common European security system, including missile defence, seem to be the only reasonable options for all parties.

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