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July 20, 2006

Iran Believes it is Ready for Nuclear War 

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. By July 19, 2006, it had become clear that all the pieces were now in position for the Iranian clerical Administration under “Supreme Leader” “Ayatollah” Ali Hoseini-Khamene‘i and Pres. Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad to escalate their conflict with Israel and the West in the manner which best suited their purposes. Pres. Ahmadi-Nejad said as much on July 18, 2006, promising a “rejoicing” for Muslims in the Middle East “soon”, and noting at an address in Mashhad that the “volcano of rage” at the “arrogant powers” was “on the verge of eruption”. 

Pres. Ahmadi-Nejad made other references to the possible imminent destruction of Israel. And he did so with the knowledge that Iran was ready to escalate the conflict up to, and including, direct strategic-level military confrontation with Israel and the US. Iranian negotiators, particularly on matters related to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of the Iranian nuclear weapons programs, had stalled successfully for some time.

It was clear, by July 19, 2006, that this stalling was no longer necessary. Alaeddin Borujerdi, the Iranian Majlis member who heads the national security and foreign policy commission, said that the Majlis itself could push through legislation suspending Iranian membership in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if the Security Council pressured Iran further on the nuclear issue. The week before, the UK, the People’s Republic of China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States decided to send Iran’s case back to the Security Council after Tehran failed to respond to demands that it cease uranium enrichment. 

Iran, which is close to a domestic capacity to produce nuclear weapons, already has an arsenal of externally-acquired nuclear weapons, and its ready for conflict at a nuclear level. 

The report below — The DPRK Missiles: Preparation for the Middle East Crisis? — highlights, once again, the high degree of sophistication and operational readiness of both the North Korean and Iranian nuclear forces for both first strike and follow-on strike functions. Defense & Foreign Affairs has consistently, since 1991, reported on progress in the Iranian and DPRK missile and nuclear weapons fields. [Notably, the September 27, 2004, report, Iran, North Korea Test Deployments of National Command Authority Systems, New Nuclear Systems, highlighted the progress of strategic weapons developments. As well, see, among others, the February 1992 report in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy journal, entitled Iran Acquires Nuclear Weapons And Moves To Provide Cover to Syria.] 

It comes as no surprise that both countries are now ready for strategic nuclear operations, utilizing ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft as primary delivery mechanisms. 

Moreover, it is also not surprising that Iran’s surrogates, HizbAllah, operating principally out of Lebanon, and the Syrian Government of Dr Bashar al-Assad, are also ready for their rôle in the confrontation in the Middle East. 

In the December 2, 2002, Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily report by Senior Editor Yossef Bodansky entitled Tehran maneuvers for a wider war with Israel to ensure that the US-led war on Iraq does not leave Iran isolated and surrounded, it was noted that Iran — conscious of the impending US invasion of Iraq — was building up its forces in Syria and Lebanon to ensure its continued strategic survival. The report noted: 

By mid-July 2002, [senior HizbAllah leader Imad] Mughniyah’s command included some 12,000 trained Shi’ite fighters and an arsenal of heavy weapons, including over 10,000 missiles and rockets, as well as some 10,000 Palestinian fighters and between 120 and 150 al-Qaida veterans who arrived via Pakistan and Iran. Mughniyah’s forces were deployed in a series of fortifications covering a 10 to 15 mile wide sector north of the Israeli-Lebanese border, with a central headquarters built in an underground bunker complex under a hill in an eastern neighborhood of 

Sidon overlooking the Mediterranean. The new command enjoyed lavish logistical, intelligence and financial support from Iran and Syria, including an expanded and dedicated training infrastructure in Lebanon, Syria and Iran. Indeed, some US officials considered this build-up a more urgent threat to the US than Saddam’s. 

Subsequently, HizbAllah was supplied with new types of missiles with longer range and bigger warheads. First to arrive were several hundred long-range Iranian-made 240mm Fajr-3 with a range of 40km/25 miles and 333mm Fajr-5 rockets with a range of 72km/45miles. Both missiles have a standard 220lb/100kg warhead. These were supplemented later in Fall 2002 by the delivery of more than 300 220mm rockets with a range of 72-80km/45-50miles (slightly longer than the Fajr-5s which the HizbAllah already had received but fitted with a smaller warhead. This was primarily a politically important development because these rockets are produced by the Syrian Military Industries for the sole use of the Syrian Armed Forces. Hence, the delivery of these rockets amounted to Syria’s direct involvement in any future use by the HizbAllah, a “first” of great political significance. 

In mid-November 2002, Damascus promised to also supply HizbAllah with new long-range 330mm rockets which the Syrian Military Industries have yet to put into production. Strategically, most important was the delivery in September/October 2002 of numerous Zalzal-2 missiles to the Pasdaran contingent in southern Lebanon. Although not accurate, the 610mm Zalzal-2 has a range of 210km (130 miles) with a standard 1323lb (600kg) warhead, thus covering all of central Israel to the northern Gaza Strip. The Zalzal-2 is thus capable of easily reaching the greater Tel Aviv area. With a smaller warhead, the Zalzal-2’s range can be extended to at least 320km/200miles, which means covering the [Israeli] Dimona-area [nuclear] facilities. 

The Zalzal-2 missiles are hidden in underground storage bases in Tyre and Sidon areas under Pasdaran control. 

Intelligence reporting of this kind (and the cited paragraphs were a small example of the analysis) showed just how detailed the knowledge was, even in late 2002, of the extent of the rocket and missile threat from southern Lebanon to Israel. Moreover, Defense & Foreign Affairs sources believe that the number of rockets and missiles in the hands of HizbAllah and Pasdaran forces in southern Lebanon had by mid-2006 reached at least 20,000. 

Quite apart from the destructive power which these weapons represent, it is clear that the Iranian strategy is to overwhelm Israeli and deployed US anti-ballistic missile (ABM) sensors and weapons, thus exhausting defenses before a strategic nuclear (or other WMD) series of strikes by longer-range Iranian Shahab-3D ballistic missiles, or other Scud-derivative weapons fired from Syria. 

By around July 19, 2006, the operational tempo of the HizbAllah firings against civilian targets inside Israel was around 10 a day, sufficient to cause major political damage, while expending only a small fraction of the HizbAllah/Pasdaran capacity. 

But with its inimitable sense of authority, The New York Times on July 18, 2006, reported: “The power and sophistication of the missile and rocket arsenal that Hezbollah [HizbAllah] has used in recent days has caught the United States and Israel off guard, and officials in both countries are just now learning the extent to which the militant group has succeeded in getting weapons from Iran and Syria.” 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Neither the US nor the Israeli military analysts were caught by surprise.  

Indeed, the knowledge of the extent of the Iranian-supplied arsenal held by HizbAllah, Syria, and HAMAS, was what occasioned great caution on the part of Israeli military planners in attempting to address the various layers of rocket and missile threats which they will face, with increasing intensity, in the present conflict with Iran. 

It seemed logical that, before the end of July 2006, Israel would commit an extensive ground force into Lebanon to attempt to eliminate the missile and rocket threat before the conflict could escalate to the strategic exchange in which long-range ballistic missiles with WMD warheads would be used from Iran. 

Clearly, the Iranian military leadership has planned for this contingency, and may attempt, 

What seems clear is that Tehran would be unprepared to allow several years of patient development of HizbAllah and Pasdaran forces and infrastructure development be destroyed by a strong IDF combined-arms operation into the Beqa’a. In any event, such an incursion would quickly reveal the presence there of uniformed Iranian Pasdaran forces, and this would then represent a direct Israel-Iran confrontation. [It was probable that Pasdaran forces were behind the launch on July 14, 2006, of a C-802 (Silkworm variant, produced by Iran) cruise missile from Lebanon against an Israeli Navy ship. This may be an indication that Tehran is not shying away from direct contact between Pasdaran and Israeli forces.] 

Would Iran, at this point, back away from escalating the conflict to a strategic weapons level? 

Part of the consideration of Iranian clerical possible moves must include the reality that, despite the hope by some clerics for some resolution other than war, Pres. Ahmadi-Nejad sees the war as winnable. Significantly, although US Pres. George W. Bush had, by July 19, 2006, been supportive of Israel’s right to self-defense, few US strategic assets had been pre-positioned to assist in the defense of Israel; assets such as Aegis warships capable of assisting in Israeli target acquisition against incoming ballistic warheads. 

There may have been concerns in Washington about contributing to an escalation of the tensions prevailing at that time, but the absence of concrete military moves by the US would have drawn an interpretation in Tehran which accorded with Iranian perspectives. And, significantly, the Bush White House has made it clear that it supports the Iranian population resolving the leadership question in Iran, rather than seeing Iran and the US forced into direct military confrontation. 

It was no coincidence that, on July 19, 2006, the Iranian opposition umbrella organization, Azadegan, published a full-page advertisement in The Washington Times warning of the intent of Iran’s clerics to escalate the situation into a war against Israel. But the statement called for the US to support the Iranian population’s moves to overthrow the Iranian clerics. 

The situation may, however, have moved beyond that point: the clerics may, with the July actions, have seized the initiative — as they did under Khomeini in 1980-82, when they were about to be removed by popular pressure — to bring war upon Iran in order to ensure that the population did not abandon the leadership. By embracing war with Iraq, “Ayatollah” Ruhollah Khomeini evoked Iranian nationalism to ensure that his citizens rallied around the flag instead of destroying the clerical administration. 

It is also probably true that the Iranian clerical leadership feels that a wider conflict in the region would end any viability for the US-led Coalition military presence in neighboring Iraq. Already, by mid-July, Iraqi Shi’a clerics — even moderate Grand Ayatollah Sistani called for solidarity with HizbAllah — had supported HizbAllah’s actions in Lebanon, something which caused disquiet in Washington. 

But on the other hand, the situation polarized much of the Sunni Muslim Middle East, where, even from the Saudi Arabian Government, condemnation of HizbAllah has been resounding and unprecedented. And embraced in this condemnation has been HizbAllah’s tactical ally against Israel, the HAMAS movement in the Palestinian Authority. For Saudi Arabia, success for Iran would represent a major strategic reversal for Riyadh: Iraq could be dominated by Iran, and divided, the great fear of the Saudis in the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. And a successful nuclear war against Israel by Iran would, ironically, leave the Middle East dominated by Tehran, something which would be unacceptable to the Saudi Government. 

The conflict is escalating toward pivotal strategic confrontation, then, and its outcome may determine the future of the entire Middle East.