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July 10, 2008

Mullahs and Missiles

By

It's not unusual for a state to conduct military exercises, but Iran had a lot more in mind when it literally went ballistic yesterday - launching nine medium- and long-range missiles during its "Great Prophet" war games.

Without question, this latest round of saber-rattling wasn't just routine defense drills. It was intended, instead, to posture and provoke - and to advance Iranian interests:

Oil markets: The price of oil slipped a tad in the last day or two, which runs counter to the interests of Tehran's needy coffers. (Iran's economy is highly dependent on energy revenues - not to mention a mess due to incompetent mullah management.)

The war games are sure to ratchet up regional tensions - and thereby push the price of "black gold" back up.

Push-back: Energy-dependent Western nations have imposed economic sanctions on Tehran to pressure it to stop enriching uranium, a step toward nuclear weapons. Iran is hitting back by rattling nervous oil markets.

The mullahs also have threatened to attack oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's oil exports travel. The sea and land war games, including a variety of missile shots, put some semblance of teeth into that threat.

Military might: Tehran's military exercises are also an answer to the exercises the US Navy has been conducting in the Persian Gulf. And these missile tests signal that there will be a price to pay for any military action against Iran, especially its nuclear (weapons) program - which continues unimpeded.

Mohamed El Baradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), recently said Iran could be six months to a year away from a nuclear weapon if it pulled out all the stops.

The missiles Iran tested can reach all of the Middle East, including US forces in the region and Israel. The longer-range Shahab-3 can also reach into southern Europe.

The scientific data gleaned from the missile tests, especially of the "improved" Shahab-3, might also aid Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, which Tehran is developing as a natural sidekick to nukes.

The concern over that threat isn't without merit. In late May, the IAEA reported (based on multisource, multilateral intelligence received from member states) that Iran is working on a new missile warhead, known as "Project 111," for the Shahab.

According to documents in the IAEA's possession, Iran has redesigned the current "Shahab-3 missile re-entry vehicle to accommodate a nuclear warhead."

Tehran hasn't tested an ICBM successfully yet, but experts estimate a two-stage ballistic missile from Iran could reach all of Europe - plus the US East Coast. A three-stage version could range the entire United States.

Bottom line: Iran's chest-beating here shows the mullahs' true intentions, despite seemingly endless efforts on the part of the West to improve relations - and slow its nuclear program.

Why is Tehran developing defense programs, such as missiles and nukes, that will hold increasing numbers of people hostage to its wishes? Clearly, it plans to become the Middle East's 800-pound gorilla.

Iran's leaders will also continue supporting terrorism (via such cat's paws as Hamas and Hezbollah), trying to manipulate energy markets to their advantage and creating an anti-US arc of influence across the Middle East.

No amount of striped-pants happy-talk is likely to dissuade Tehran from its intended course. That leaves us, and other like-minded states, with little choice but to do whatever's needed to protect our interests.

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Peter Brookes is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense.

It's not unusual for a state to conduct military exercises, but Iran had a lot more in mind when it literally went ballistic yesterday - launching nine medium- and long-range missiles during its "Great Prophet" war games.

Without question, this latest round of saber-rattling wasn't just routine defense drills. It was intended, instead, to posture and provoke - and to advance Iranian interests:

Oil markets: The price of oil slipped a tad in the last day or two, which runs counter to the interests of Tehran's needy coffers. (Iran's economy is highly dependent on energy revenues - not to mention a mess due to incompetent mullah management.)

The war games are sure to ratchet up regional tensions - and thereby push the price of "black gold" back up.

Push-back: Energy-dependent Western nations have imposed economic sanctions on Tehran to pressure it to stop enriching uranium, a step toward nuclear weapons. Iran is hitting back by rattling nervous oil markets.

The mullahs also have threatened to attack oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's oil exports travel. The sea and land war games, including a variety of missile shots, put some semblance of teeth into that threat.

Military might: Tehran's military exercises are also an answer to the exercises the US Navy has been conducting in the Persian Gulf. And these missile tests signal that there will be a price to pay for any military action against Iran, especially its nuclear (weapons) program - which continues unimpeded.

Mohamed El Baradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), recently said Iran could be six months to a year away from a nuclear weapon if it pulled out all the stops.

The missiles Iran tested can reach all of the Middle East, including US forces in the region and Israel. The longer-range Shahab-3 can also reach into southern Europe.

The scientific data gleaned from the missile tests, especially of the "improved" Shahab-3, might also aid Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, which Tehran is developing as a natural sidekick to nukes.

The concern over that threat isn't without merit. In late May, the IAEA reported (based on multisource, multilateral intelligence received from member states) that Iran is working on a new missile warhead, known as "Project 111," for the Shahab.

According to documents in the IAEA's possession, Iran has redesigned the current "Shahab-3 missile re-entry vehicle to accommodate a nuclear warhead."

Tehran hasn't tested an ICBM successfully yet, but experts estimate a two-stage ballistic missile from Iran could reach all of Europe - plus the US East Coast. A three-stage version could range the entire United States.

Bottom line: Iran's chest-beating here shows the mullahs' true intentions, despite seemingly endless efforts on the part of the West to improve relations - and slow its nuclear program.

Why is Tehran developing defense programs, such as missiles and nukes, that will hold increasing numbers of people hostage to its wishes? Clearly, it plans to become the Middle East's 800-pound gorilla.

Iran's leaders will also continue supporting terrorism (via such cat's paws as Hamas and Hezbollah), trying to manipulate energy markets to their advantage and creating an anti-US arc of influence across the Middle East.

No amount of striped-pants happy-talk is likely to dissuade Tehran from its intended course. That leaves us, and other like-minded states, with little choice but to do whatever's needed to protect our interests.

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Peter Brookes is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense.

First appeared in the New York Post

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