The announcement seemed geared to trying to calm Europe, Russia, China and other nations outside the region.
Iran may have been prompted to make the declaration by Russia, which opposes American plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe for fear it may be meant to make Russia’s own missiles obsolete.
The US anti-missile system is justified as needed to defend against future longer range Iranian missiles that could reach deep into Europe and later to North America. But if Iran, builds no missile with a range greater than 2,000 kilometers, than the defense system postured by the United States would be unnecessary.
Over the years, the Islamic Republic has shifted and wavered over the range needed for its missiles. At times, officials have proclaimed that the next goal of the missile program was to design missiles with a greater range and accuracy. At other times, they have said the 2,000-kilometer range of the Shahab-3 was all that was needed.
Whether Tuesday’s proclamation was just the latest iteration of the internal debate or a definitive policy decision could not be determined.
The new position on range was announced Tuesday by Pasdar Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Pasdar Aerospace Force, which operates Iran’s missiles.
Speaking to reporters at a large-scale missile drill, Hajizadeh said Iran looks at the challenges it faces in designing missile ranges.
“We feel we are threatened by no countries other than the United States and the Zionist regime. The ranges of our missiles have been designed based on the distances between us and the US bases in the region and the Zionist regime,” Hajizadeh said, making the range question sound as if it were based solely on logic.
Hajizadeh said Israel was within 2,000 kilometers of Iran and the farthest American base in the region was 700 kilometers from Iran. Actually, the US Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, which Iran often mentions with concern, is 900 kilometers from Iran.
But more importantly, the Diego Garcia Air Base, from which B-52 bombers have been flown to Middle Eastern targets, is 4,000 kilometers from Iran in the Indian Ocean. And B-2 Stealth bombers were flown to attack Iraqi targets in the 2003 war directly from their base in Missouri. Air attacks today are flown against Afghan targets from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean. And the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were used with devastating effect on Iraq in the 1991 and 2003 wars are fired from surface ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean. The US land bases in the region are not central to any air attack that might be launched against Iran and probably would not be used at all in order not to offend Arab sensibilities.
But Iran sometimes speaks of missile attacks on US bases or Israel as retaliation or punishment for any attack on Iran. That raises two issues.
First, an air attack on Iran’s nuclear sites would be over in a day. But if Iran should retaliate, as it threatens, to kill American troops in large numbers, that could easily trigger a full-scale war. Iranian planners surely understand that.
Second, Iranian missiles are not very accurate and could easily miss an American base and strike a nearby Arab neighborhood. The US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain in the port of the capital city of Manama. A missile that falls a kilometer short would blow up in the middle of the city.
Doug Richardson, editor of Jane’s Missiles and Rockets magazine, described Iran’s missile program as “fairly rudimentary” in 2006. He put the accuracy of the Shahab-3 at a circular error of probability (CEP) of 2.5 kilometers, meaning that if Iran fired two missiles at the very same target, only one of them would land anywhere within 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) of that target and the other would fall even farther away.
General Hajizadeh boasted that Iran has the technology to make longer-range missiles, but doesn’t need that range. “We have no intention to produce such missiles,” he said.
Over the years, news reports attributed to various European and American intelligence sources have spoken of Iran working on a missile with a range of 6,000 kilometers (3,750 miles). Furthermore, the capability to orbit a satellite, which Iran has, gives the theoretical capability to plunk a bomb down anywhere in the world. However, the largest satellite Iran has thus far put in orbit, the Omid, weighs only 27 kilos (60 pounds) and doesn’t pose much of a bomb threat.