Iran threatens missile crisis in Middle East
ISRAELI defence officials watched in dismay as the small blip
disappeared from the radar, short of its target.
Off the Californian coast, the Jewish state's key Arrow-2 missile
defence system was undergoing tests under the auspices of the Americans.
While one missile had successfully downed an incoming Scud, the second
test against a new type of weapon being developed by the Iranians had
failed to meet its target. The Israeli's explained away the failure as
a small technical hitch, but 3,000 miles away, at a secret location in
the Iranian desert, the radical Islamic Republic had successfully test
fired the upgraded Shihab-3 missile, now capable of striking at the
heart of the Jewish state.
The brinksmanship and the rhetoric between the two states has
intensified amid increasing speculation that Israel might attack
Iranian nuclear facilities.
Yadollah Javani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards political
bureau, warned: "The entire Zionist territory... is currently within
range of Iran's advanced missiles."
As both Israel and Iran lined up their missiles for test firings, the
Israeli chief of staff, General Moshe Ya'alon, said Iran's nuclear
development had to be halted before it went much further. He told the
Yediot Ahronot newspaper: "Iran is striving for nuclear capability and
I suggest that in this matter [Israel should] not rely on others."
In Tehran, Iran's defence minister, Ali Shamkhani, warned that should
Israel do so, his country would "wipe out" Israel.
Tensions between the two nations rose as the United States urged the
United Nations Security Council to take action against Iran for its
alleged nuclear weapons programme.
The test launch of the Iranian Shihab-3 missile last month revealed
the warhead had been considerably upgraded, probably thanks to
assistance from foreign experts from the former Soviet Union or North
The improvements will permit slower entry into the atmosphere so that
the warhead, which could be chemical, will be more durable and its
contents better protected.
Currently, the Shihab-3 has a range of about 800 miles and can reach
as far as Turkey, Israel and most Saudi Arabian cities, but the
Iranians are also believed to be working on the Shihab-5 whose range
could be up to 1,600 miles, which would put most of central Europe
While it still carries conventional warheads, the Shihab-3 presents a
low threat to the region. "But Iran's missile programme is an integral
part of its nuclear programme," said Dr Shmuel Bar, a senior research
fellow at the Institute of Policy and Strategy in Israel. "Only
nuclear capability would make this weapon an effective deterrent."
Israeli officials were quick to play down the failure of the Arrow-2
test, describing it as a technical glitch, and said Washington had
approved $153m for further testing in 2005 of its missile defence system.
With a growing number of experts claiming Iran is only two to three
years away from producing the bomb, international diplomatic focus
will now turn to the September 13 board meeting of the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that is expected to discuss Iran's nuclear
The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, this week urged the nuclear
watchdog to refer the issue to the Security Council following a leaked
report that Iran plans to turn tons of uranium into the substance used
to make enriched uranium.
Powell's concerns were echoed on Friday by Foreign Secretary, Jack
Straw, who said the report contained "clear reservations" about the
nature of Iran's programme and past concealment efforts. He said
Britain would work with Germany and France to review their faltering
diplomatic initiative in coaxing Iran to stop uranium enrichment and
complying fully with its treaty obligations.
The confidential report said the agency had been informed that the
Islamic Republic planned to process 37 tonnes of raw uranium into
uranium hexafluoride. Uranium hexafluoride is spun in centrifuges to
produce enriched uranium, which can be used to generate power or make
nuclear warheads, depending on the degree of enrichment.
However, while the report said 37 tonnes could give Iran enough
material for five bombs, the agency said it found no conclusive
evidence of an Iranian arms programme.
As a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is entitled
build a nuclear facility, including one for uranium enrichment, so
long as it is intended for peaceful purposes - which is what Tehran
But the Bush administration has opposed the activation of Iran's
nuclear power plant in the Gulf port of Bushehr, arguing that Iran -
one of the world's largest oil suppliers - has no need for such a
plant. It has accused Tehran of hiding a nuclear weapons development
programme under the guise of a civilian atomic energy programme.
Iran agreed to suspend its enrichment programme last year, in an
effort to build international trust. But in July, it confirmed reports
that it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges.
Andrew Koch, of Jane's Defence Weekly, said the IAEA has been
successful in opening up Iran's nuclear programme to international
scrutiny. "There is no indication that they have been ordered to build
a bomb," he said. "Whereas the American security system is focused
solely on the capability and not on the intention, both the IAEA and
the Europeans take the line of looking at a country's intentions: not
could they but would they?"
But other defence analysts say Iran's technological advances along
with their nuclear weapons ambitions, given their drive to be seen as
a regional leader in the Gulf region, were still a major cause for
"There is no way that if Iran gets the bomb that Egypt or Saudi Arabia
would just sit back and declare no interest in becoming nuclear
powers," Bar said, adding it would have serious implications for the NPT.
"It is a big worry," a former adviser on non-proliferation to the
Clinton Administration, Robert Einhorn, told the Scotland on Sunday.
"Both the US and the Europeans need to try and alter Iran's
calculations of costs and benefits."
Now a senior adviser at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and
International Studies, Einhorn added that the Europeans were less
likely to lean on Iran because of growing commercial ties, whereas the
Americans "currently use all sticks and no carrots in their approach."