The successful launch of Iran's paradigm-changing Sejil 2 ballistic missile on Wednesday, May 20, was as cutting for its timing as for the flexing of military-technological muscle for its own sake.
Minutes after the dual-stage, solid-fuel propelled, 2,000 kilometer range missile hit its target on the nail, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff was on the phone to Rome. He asked Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, who was due to visit Tehran that day, to redirect his plane to land at Semnan in the north. The Iranian president would receive him there in person.
Smelling a red herring, the Italian officials asked why their foreign minister was to be so honored. They were told that the president wished to show Frattini the site from which the proud new Iranian missile had been launched.
He would be rewarded with a solemn pledge that Iran would never fire the missile against Italy or any other European country.
Frattini thereupon called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. They were joined in a conference call by the heads of Italy's foreign and intelligence services. It took them half an hour to decide to cancel Frattini's Iran trip. Berlusconi refused to let his foreign minister be a dummy to be manipulated by the Iranians for winning points in Europe while developing a weapon capable of striking continental targets from Italy southward including
Wide range of US forces vulnerable to missile
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly Iran sources, the missile also targeted President Barack Obama's summit with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. A successful launch was meant to render null and void any decisions they might reach on their strategy for Iran and its nuclear plans.
(See the separate article on Netanyahu's visit to Washington.)
All in all, while stalling in its response to President Obama's overtures for a dialogue between the two countries, Iran's leaders are deliberately staging an aggressive or provocative move every few days to make a point, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly has reported in previous issues. That point is quite simply that Tehran – not Washington – must write the script for the forthcoming talks with the Obama administration.
As the Iranian president said frankly after the missile launch: “We send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show.”
This posture is fueled by the absence of any missile defense system capable of intercepting the Iranian projectile in any of the thousands of square kilometers within its range. Sejil-2 can make most of its way to target in the stratosphere, only flipping down to pounce directly above its target.
This means that all the US forces and bases in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, south-east Europe, Central Asia and Afghanistan, and all American naval units stationed in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, the central and southern Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea, have overnight become vulnerable to Iranian missile attack. So too have large tracts of southern Russia, western India and most of Pakistan.
“They can't ignore us any more”
Things might have been different if the American missile shield facilities had been in place in Poland and the Czech Republic. But only as recently as May 7, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov resumed talks in Washington, at Clinton's initiative, on a “Grand Bargain” (under which Washington would forgo stationing the intercept missiles in East Europe, and in return Moscow would lean on Tehran to accept President Obama's proposals).
The prospects of deploying a missile defense system capable of responding to the Sejil 2 threat are accordingly remote indeed.
Israel's Arrow-2 is outperformed by the Sejil 2, while Arrow 3, which could handle it is currently under development and will not be ready to go before three to four years.
US missile tracking systems, including the American advanced anti-missile radar FBX-T stationed at Nevatim airbase in the Negev (the only American early warning installation in the entire Persian Gulf and Mediterranean area linked to the American missile detection DSP satellite system), have meanwhile confirmed the high accuracy of the new Iranian missile.
This is a signal breakthrough. Iran's missiles were hitherto reputed to be more of the hit-or-miss variety and therefore easy to intercept. That assumption has now gone by the board.
Thursday night, May 21, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources found Iranian officials in Tehran in a high state of triumph.
The major-league countries like America and India, let alone Europe, can no longer ignore our missile capability and commanding military prowess, they boasted. Iran's rulers have gained an enormous measure of confidence, certain they have won the whip hand for leaning hard on Washington to accept their terms – not only in respect of their nuclear plans, but also for the rest of their ambitious agenda, which covers Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East.