The Shehab-3 Comes Through With Flying Colors, Shocks the West
A stormy meeting in the offices of Iran’s supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, produced the out-of-the-blue announcement by Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Rahim Safavi on Nov. 2 that a new military maneuver would begin the following morning in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman.
The exercise, dubbed Great Prophet, will last 10 days, he reported, and would entail the first test-firing of the long-range Shehab-3 armed with “a cluster warhead.” The test was initially reported by military sources to have been successful.
The Shehab-3 is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and believed to have a range of more than 2,000 km. It can reach Israel, US Middle East forces and all its neighbors.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iran sources disclose that the top-level emergency consultation in Tehran came to two basic decisions. One was for the exercise to be an exclusive Revolutionary Guards venture. The other was for them to openly practice blockading the Strait of Hormuz in full sight of US warship and aerial surveillance.
These decisions were motivated by four essential considerations:
1. Iran is compelled to respond to the constant build-up of American carriers, naval and air might and marines opposite its shores. Safavi and other RC commanders attending the crisis session with Khamenei argued that Tehran’s answer to the US challenge was belated; it should have been delivered in the second week of October.
2. Neither can the Islamic Republic afford to overlook a second challenge: the US-British decision to pull a portion of its strength out of Iraq and augment their Persian Gulf bases and war vessels opposite its shores. An exercise for blocking the Straits of Hormuz – the sea outlet for the region’s oil to world markets – would signal the Americans and British that Tehran will not take this redeployment lying down.
A swarm of missiles fired to deter Bush
Blocking Hormuz would be one strong rejoinder. The stunning array of Iranian missiles tested, including the long-range Shehab-3, was meant to demonstrate to the Americans and British that their vessels and bases, with supplemental forces from Iraq, are well within the range of missile attacks from Iran. And so are members of the European Union.
Initial assessments of the data obtained from the tests by US and Israeli experts disclose the Shehab-3 missile in particular as being the product of highly sophisticated technology, which the Iranians must have obtained very recently from China.
The Iranians clearly went all out not just to deter the Americans from attacking their nuclear installations, but also to scare the Europeans, who are within missile range, into holding the Americans back from an attack, lest they like Israel are punished by an Iranian missile backlash.
A fresh assessment of Iran’s strategic strength is now underway.
3. Brought before the Tehran meeting was an intelligence report, collected by Iranian agents operating in the United Arab Emirates, which claimed hectic American military concentrations on Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, which protrudes into the narrow Hormuz Straits. Unusual American military activity was picked up at the peninsula’s Ras Qabar al-Hindi. This is why Iran decided to focus Revolutionary Guards activity in the exercise at its big naval base of Bande Lengeh and the islands of Qeshm, Larak and Henqam, opposite the strategic straits.
4. Iran’s latest military exercise also encompasses tactics for suppressing popular and national uprisings should they flare at the same time as an American offensive. Iran’s leaders are confident that the US Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6 Secret Service are already busy stirring up domestic unrest among restive communities to sow chaos in the Iranian homeland and hamper military transport movements in the event of a war.
Our military sources add that the Iranian leadership’s frantic orders this week came on the heels of last week’s precautions. The commanders of the First Military Zone and the RC’s Navy at its Bandar Abbas headquarters have since then been on Yellow Alert, one level short of full war. The warships, submarines and fast boats of both forces are on maximum alert with orders to keep close track of the movements of US warships and submarines in the Persian Gulf.
Tehran additionally posted to the sector a large number of patrol, surveillance and pilot-less aircraft, placed all of southern Iran’s military airfields on the ready, especially at Shiraz, Bandar Abbas and Chah-Bahar, close to its border with Pakistan.
For ten days, interceptors and bombers have stood ready on their runways for instantaneous take-off.
A senior informant close to Iran’s armed forces informed DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in the Gulf that the RCs and army have received all the tools and information they need to keep close watch on American naval movements in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman. This source maintains that the high command of the navy’s shore-to-sea missile unit and the RC navy are fully capable of countering any hostile US action.
Our military experts strongly question this assertion.
Iranian naval equipment is no match for US weaponry
In particular, the equipment of Iran’s naval units is obsolete and insufficient.
Last spring, Iran put into service a new generation of C-802 shore-to-sea missiles (one of which hit and crippled an Israeli missile frigate opposition Beirut in July). The missile, derived from the Chinese Silkworm, is mass-produced by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ industries, which have been upgrading it for the last five years. While this missile is effective, it is outperformed by the US Navy’s advanced RAM system which can knock out the C-802 missile’s radar guidance during launch and in mid-flight.
The RAM system, which is designed to defeat incoming antiship cruise missiles, is integrated with the AN/SWY-2 weapon and combat direction system on certain US vessels. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that Iran, racing to keep up, recently armed the Kilo submarines it purchased from Russia with sophisticated Shkaval torpedoes. Russian instructors have been in Chah Bahar since August teaching Iranian officers how to use the system.
But, according to our military sources, the US fleet in the Persian Gulf is also armed with systems capable of neutralizing the Kilo submarines’ radar and its torpedo launching system, as a recent exercise by the guided missile destroyer USS Ramage in the Atlantic naval base of Norfolk naval base demonstrated.
The US destroyer, equipped for high-density, multi-threat environments, was joined in the exercise by US F-18 interceptors and E-2 EW aircraft. It was able to show its paces as an integral part of a carrier-battle group or surface action group, together with its capabilities for air warfare, undersea warfare and surface warfare as local protection of the battle group.
F-18 interceptors are deployed on the decks of the USS Eisenhower which reached the Middle East this week.
But Iran’s missiles are another matter. US missile experts were astounded by the performance of the array of missiles which Iran fired at the outset of its war game early Thursday
Iranian leaders, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, acted out of conviction that the US seriously means to go through with a military offensive in the coming months, although some of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s close circle maintains the Americans are bluffing to intimidate them. But by and large, Tehran is coming round to the belief that if Washington finds that Iran cannot be forced to give up uranium enrichment by UN Security Council action or superficial sanctions, the Bush administration will decide there is no other option but an extensive military offensive to wipe out its nuclear installations.
Most Iranian officials are also convinced that Israel is prodding Washington to go through with this offensive. They hope that their scintillating missile performance will persuade the Europeans to hold the Bush administration back.