Iran’s Maneuvers and the Shahab Missiles

Nov 15 19:00 2006 maor ziv Print This Article

The showcase military maneuvers, which Iran started last week, displayed warheads capable of carrying a nuclear payload. This threatens all of Europe. Why do some still believe the "civilian purposes" lie?

Last week,Guest Posting Iran began another military maneuver, dubbed "Greatest Prophet". The maneuver is a follow-up to the "Great Prophet" drill, which ran during April. According to Yahya Rahim Safavi, Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guards, the drill will involve maneuvers on land, sea and air, in the desert near the city of Qom, in the Persian Gulf and on the Sea of Oman.

In the last few weeks, the US army began a series of maneuvers in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian drill is termed a response to the American show of force, although this is unlikely, as preparations for a drill of this magnitude would require much more time for preparation.

Based on the information gleaned from the drill, Israel and the rest of the world should pay attention to the ballistic arsenal on display. This is for two reasons: One, Iran does not have any important innovations to show in any other military areas. The Iranian army is strong and well trained, but it uses technologies familiar to the West, so no surprises there. The second reason is that the best way to deliver a nuclear bomb nowadays is via a ballistic missile. As Iran continues its progress towards such a bomb, the ballistic threat assumes a more dangerous coloration.

In this article, we will focus on the various Iranian achievements in ballistic missile development.

Shahab 2 - Cluster Warheads

One of the achievements reported by the Iranian news agency IRNA was a special warhead mounted on the Shahab 2 missile. This is a warhead which releases 1,400 bomblets, each the size of a hand grenade, upon hitting the ground. According to foreign publications, the test of this warhead was a success.

What are the strategic ramifications of this? There are none of real importance. Cluster warheads are no revolution in warfare. A smaller version of these warheads can be mounted on the "Grad" rockets, which the Palestinians have had for some time. The likely reason why the Iranians are touting this achievement in the warhead is that we are dealing with independent Iranian development rather than an imported technology.

Reuters news agency, which reported the experiment, interviewed Duncan Lennox, editor of "Jane's Strategic Weapons System", an arms and weaponry journal, and asked him about the warhead. He confirms that it is not an important strategic innovation.

For Israel, the most important feature of the Shahab 2 missile is its range. This missile, a smaller relative of the Shahab 3, has a range of 1,300 km. In other words, if fired from Iranian territory, no location in Israel is safe from it. The assortment of warheads it can carry, including nuclear warheads, is troubling.

Not only Israel is in range. All of Turkey is threatened, as well as a large part of Saudi Arabia. These two countries are considered moderate Middle-Eastern states and play host to many large American bases.

However, Israel has an answer to the Shahab 2: The Arrow Interceptor missile. This is an Israeli development funded by the USA, which according to different publications has a remarkable statistical accuracy of 90% hitting targeted missiles. When confronting a missile bearing a nuclear warhead even 90% is not enough, but tactically, it is sufficient.

Shahab 3 - Long Range and Nuclear

Shahab 3 is the most advanced "ground to ground" missile tested during the drill. Its special feature is its long range. Normally, it can fly up to 2,500 km from the launch site. When launched from Iran, the capitals of Greece, Italy, Poland, Austria and Russia are within range.

But it does not end there. From different publications in the Iranian English media, the Iranian News Agency, and different websites, we can conclude that the Iranians have developed a significant upgrade to the Shahab 3. This missile is based on the North Korean Nodong missile. When it is upgraded with systems from a Russian missile (R12 or SSN6), its range improves significantly.

When upgraded, the missile can fly up to 3500 km. Translated into geo-strategic terms, this means Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin are in range. To the east, India and China are threatened by the missile, although China does not have much to worry about, since ballistic advancements in Iran rely a great deal on Chinese technology. Other countries are threatened by the missiles, but they are not of strategic importance.

Another aspect of the Shahab 3, which was highlighted in the test, was its dividing warhead. This is a warhead intended to carry nuclear and chemical payloads, and is of no use for delivering conventional payloads. The warhead divides three times: first when the warhead splits off from the body of the missile; second, when an altitude fuse removes the envelope of the warhead; third when an additional altitude fuse triggers the payload of the missile, which can be either nuclear or chemical. According to American experts, such a warhead is a perfect fit for a nuclear bomb developed by Pakistani military industries.

The Shahab 3 is not impervious to the Arrow, either. If the Arrow statistics are accurate, then the Shahab upgrade does not change the strategic regional balance. To this we should add that in the Arrow tests conducted by the US and Israel, the tests were performed against missiles similar to the Shahab 3.

Shahab 4 - The Iranians Conquer Space

The Shahab 4, which according to different publications is already operational, was not tested in the "Greatest Prophet" maneuver. However, this is a good time to analyze the missile and its capabilities.

The missile is based on the R12, a famous Soviet missile. In 1998, the missile was tested, and according to Iranian statements, it is only intended for launching satellites into space. Despite the lack of strategic importance of launching an Iranian satellite into space, it has sweeping importance as a statement. Launching a satellite is the traditional way of announcing a nation's entry into the nuclear club.

The Iranians currently operate the satellite Sina-1, which was launched from Russian soil on October 2005. It is a spy satellite of rather paltry capabilities. In fact, this satellite was supposed to be the companion of another satellite, "Mesbah", which was destroyed during its launch.

Despite being intended for space, the Shahab 4 has many tactical abilities, and in all likelihood possesses a longer range than Shahab 3.

The Israeli Response: Prevention and Deterrence

For Israel, the drill offered no any new information. To the world, Iran has declared that it intends producing a nuclear weapon, and that it can use it when it does.

From this we can draw two conclusions:

The first is that any Western diplomat who still believes Iran's statements that its nuclear program is intended for civilian purposes only, is an irredeemable fool. Iran says that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, when it does not even bother to conceal the proof that it is lying. You do not have to be Mohamed El Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to know that nuclear facilities for civilian purposes have no use for plutonium and heavy water, of which Iran has recently proudly announced possession. It is a no-brainer that Iran would not be bragging about the Shahab 3's dividing warhead if it did not intend to mount a nuclear bomb on it. This willingness to accept the Iranian position, as Russia and France do, even half-heartedly, is dangerous to the world. The price tag for military action in Iran is very high, given the economic disaster anticipated as a result of shutting down the oil supply. But the price for avoiding such action is much higher. The day Iran achieves nuclear capability marks the dawn of a darker age.

The second conclusion is that Iran still threatens Israel. The best way for Israel to deal with the Iranian threat, is to prolong the current situation, where Iran does not launch missiles at Israel, in other words, prevention and deterrence. In order to defend itself from the various Shahabs, Israel must prevent Iran in any conceivable way - from diplomatic to military - from launching its missiles. Of course, having the Arrow on hand does not hurt. Israel is also awaiting the Nautilus system, and the earlier it arrives, the better.

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maor ziv
maor ziv

Omedia

Ziv Maor is the security and foreign affairs for Omedia, The leading site in security and terrorism issues, focusing on the Middle East.

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