Iran’s Space Venture Will Enhance its Nuclear Military Resources

Iran is closer than ever before to the launch of a spy satellite by a BM25 ballistic missile, 18 of which were purchased from North Korea, notwithstanding Pyongyang’s denials of aid to Iran’s nuclear program. Allaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, said last week that Iran had finished building a reconnaissance satellite and converted a ballistic missile into a space launcher. If this claim is correct, then Iran has a launcher able to put 300 kg into earth orbit – and by the same definition, an ICBM that could drop more than 300 kg anywhere in the world, including Washington DC.
While the new Shehab 3ER can strike any part of the Middle East as far west as Turkey, according to the former head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, Uzi Rubin, the BM25s with a range of up to 4,000 km can reach targets in Europe. Little is known about this missile. However, its conversion to a space launcher would produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) able to drop a payload weighing 300 km, the estimated weight of a reconnaissance satellite, anywhere in the world.
debkafile‘s military sources report that Iran has just finished upgrading its Shehab series, adapting them to solid fuel.
Although most military and intelligence experts doubt the Iranian satellite would survive in orbit for more than a few months before burning out, Tehran’s technological feats cannot be overstated. Its initial goal appears to be deterrence at a time that the United States is massing heavy naval, air and amphibious might opposite Iranian shores. However, the Islamic Republic’s progress in missile development is as much or more cause for concern than the announcement Jan. 27 by a senior Majlis lawmaker that Tehran has begun installing 3,000 nuclear centrifuges ahead of schedule at the Natanz underground facility.
Our intelligence sources reveal this group of centrifuges is being activated in stages, an added 200-300 every ten days. So far, between 1,000 and 1,200 are believed to be operational and all 3,000 are expected to be working by the end of April.
The Islamic Republic’s nuclear-missile infrastructure rests further on the reported purchase of a dozen Kh 55 nuclear-capable cruise missiles on the Ukraine’s nuclear black market some time ago. They were apparently sold stripped of the components making them functional, including their original 200-kiloton warheads, but may have come with manuals. Some experts in the West and Russia believe Iranian missile engineers were able to dismantle and replicate some of the Kh 55 systems and implant them in their home-assembled missiles.
Whereas Israel has only a single awkwardly-angled route for inserting its Ofek satellites into orbit, the Mediterranean, Iran can use two routes – northward above the Caspian Sea or southward over the Indian Ocean to avoid the risk of any of its stages falling on Russian or Saudi soil in a failed launch.
Washington has been impelled by Tehran’s rapid progress in missile technology and uranium enrichment to make haste and get elements of its anti-ballistic missile system quickly based in Poland and the Czech Republic, ready to intercept any prospective Iranian missiles heading towards Europe.
Moscow objects strongly to US missiles being based in the two former Warsaw Pact countries. Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov argued this week that Iran does not and will not possess missiles posing this threat. The American missiles, he charged, are pointed at Moscow rather than Tehran.
The fundamental conflict of interests on Iran between Russia and the United States stands out a mile.
Moscow, up in arms to protect its stake in Iran’s nuclear program, has refused to take Tehran’s belligerent stance as seriously as Washington and consistently soft-pedals international punitive action against its violations, such as uranium enrichment.
The United States, for its part, is perturbed enough by the Iran’s developing missile and nuclear capabilities to resort to defensive tactics to protect itself and its allies in Europe and the Middle East.
As for Israel, the launch of an Iranian spy satellite would not be the worst-case scenario; if successful, the damage it posed would depend on the optical quality of its camera lenses.
The real trouble is inherent in the ICBM-cum-launcher.
A three stage-missile in Iranian hands, powered by solid fuel with a long-range capability presents a major military challenge to Israel and the IDF. Israel would defend itself with its anti-missile missile Arrow system, as well as surface missiles, which can reach Iranian targets and offer a deterrent to counterbalance its missiles. But the size and capabilities of the missiles in which Iran is investing underscore Israel’s inadequacies.
Furthermore, Iran has the great advantage of an area which dwarfs Israel and the strength of numbers and resources. The Islamic Republic today is far from matching its description by Israeli ministers Shimon Peres and Rafi Eytan as weak, fragmented and potentially short-lived.
If Israel so decides, its missiles can indeed home in on focal strategic points in Iran and cause substantial damage. But they are not up to disabling the Islamic Republic or radically upsetting its strategic equilibrium. The Arrow defensive system could knock out of the sky one or more of the new Shehab 3ER missiles; it cannot handle the complexities of a multiple Shehab warhead fired to deflect Arrow interceptors from meeting a heavyweight incoming BM25 ICBM.
The only effective resource Israel has at this point is the power of a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s range of sophisticated missiles, a goal no less important than its nuclear installations.
Like Peres and Eytan, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was talking through his hat last week when he denied any “direct Iranian nuclear threat to Israel” He was offering cold comfort at best, blinding himself to the realities, at worst.

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