The target that Israeli air strikes attacked in Syria on Tuesday, Jan. 9, is revealed here for the first time by DEBKAfile’s military sources. It was a just-delivered first supply of Iranian Khorramshahrs, ballistic missiles with a range of at least 2,000km and multiple warheads of up to 1,200 kg – able to reach US bases in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia.
Syrian military sources described three Israeli Air Force missile strikes on an army post at al-Qutaifa east of Damascus, one of which was hit by Syrian air defenses. The Syrians also claimed to have intercepted one of three Israel ground-to-ground missiles “fired from the Golan and Tiberias.”
As usual after such incidents, Israeli officials stayed mum, whereas Syria was at pains to hide the truth while glorifying its own feats.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources now reveal exclusively what really happened.
Between Jan. 4 and Jan. 7, Iranian freight planes landed at Damascus military airport and unloaded their freight: a supply of Iranian Khorramshahr ballistic missiles, the first Tehran had ever deployed overseas. They are 13m long, have a body diameter of 1.5-2.0m and launch weight of 19,000-26,000kg. They are liquid-fueled and two-staged. Their range may be higher than 2,000km – possibly 2,500km or more – and the multiple warheads claimed by Iranian officials may refer to a submunitions warhead, rather than multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle technology. According to Iranian media, the missile has radar-evading capabilities and terminal guidance.
The Khorramshahr is believed to have been developed from North Korea’s Musudan (BM-25), 18 of which Tehran purchased in 2005, and modified. The Musudan was itself derived from the Soviet R-27/RSM-25 (NATO designated SS-N-6 “Serb”) submarine-launched ballistic missile SLBM.
After testing the Musudan twice in 2007 and again in 2016, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) were ready to unveil the new Khorramshahr on Sept. 22, 2017, the 37th anniversary of the Iranian-Iraqi war, presenting it as a proud product of Iran’s national armaments industry.
Since the original intermediate range Musudan has an estimated range of 2,500 to 4,000km, experts were puzzled as to why Iranian officials chose to designate its maximum range as 2,000km.
According to one theory, the Khorramshahr really is smaller than its prototype. IRGC commander of the Aerospace Division, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, has said it is smaller and more tactical. Another theory claims that Tehran is reluctant to stir up anxiety in Europe over its missile program and is therefore deliberately understating its menace, while at the same time boasting that the missile is indigenously developed: “Today, our country’[s missile power is completely domestic from concept to product,” Hajizadeh said.
Tehran has been careful not to send the Khorramshahr to any foreign war arena, such as Yemen for the Houthis, or Lebanon for Hizballah. Its consignment to Syria in the first week of the new year therefore broke new ground. DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that in Washington and Jerusalem, this is explained as being an act of reprisal by Tehran in the wake of the charge hurled by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Iranian leaders that the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia were responsible for the outbreak of protest demonstrations in Iranian cities.
The degree of menace posed to the inflammable Middle East by the Khorramshahr’s deployment to Syria was discussed in the last few days during intense exchanges between Washington and Jerusalem. They concluded that the Iranian missiles imperiled not just Israel but also two other senior US allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As shown on the attached map, Khorramshahr could reach any point in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates if launched from Syria by its pawns, Assad’s army, Hizballah – or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces serving there. And Tehran would have no qualms about using this weapon against its two Arab foes or, for that matter, at US bases in the Persian Gulf, after ordering Yemeni insurgents to aim missiles at Saudi cities.
To pre-empt this new Iranian threat, Israel acted without delay. Overnight on Jan. 9, the Israeli Air force bombed the Khorramshahrs as soon as they reached their final destination at Al Qutaifa (which is located west of the Syrian capital not east as widely reported). Al Qutaifa is the home of the Syrian government army’s 104th Airborne Brigade of the Republican Guard – Harss Al-Jamhouri – and its main ground-to-ground missile base.
Contrary to Syrian reporting, the IDF did not launch ground-to-ground missiles from the Golan and Tiberias for the operation, but solely air power. Israeli jets conducted three sorties against the newly-supplied Iranian missiles, so making absolutely sure they were totally destroyed.