While COVID-19 and massive spending bills dominate headlines, Iran just launched its first military satellite into space. If that sounds innocuous, it is not. It is a national security concern of the first order. Here is why.
Iran has long pushed two destabilizing military goals – nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. These developments would imperil all countries, including the United States. While the satellite is important, the rocket that launched it the real concern.
Iran’s intent to use these weapons for leverage – that is, blackmail – is abundantly clear. The world’s chief sponsor of terror is, not to put too fine a point on it, prepared to terrorize the world. Nothing in Iran’s record suggests they will hold back, unless held back.
While the United States has robust strategic defenses, preemption options, and diplomacy available, this launch suggests renewed focus on Iran. Unlike Obama’s permissive, no-teeth nuclear deal, Trump’s maximum pressure campaign has created conditions to encourage a restart of genuine diplomacy. We will see if they work.
Meantime, this missile is a technical inflection point, one easy to miss. We cannot – as a nation – overlook the importance of what this launch tell us.. Although Iran’s economy is battered by US sanctions, historically low oil prices and coronavirus, Iran is nearing development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Iran does not have a nuclear weapon to tip it, but the missile is a threat.
Iran’s three-stage “Qased” rocket successfully put an Iranian military satellite in orbit, using a liquid first stage, solid-fuel second and third stages. They are working advances. Experts confirm this rocket could be converted into an ICBM. After 10 years of silence, the launch shows Iran is throttling forward.
Following this launch, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s “aerospace commander,” General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, made clear their ambitions: “Thanks be to God, today we are a superpower.” Not quite, but the implication is plain: Iran is on the verge of being able to deliver a weapon via ICBM.
While this rocket is not that missile, the “Qased” is a major step forward, following a pattern seen in North Korea. Unlike North Korea, Iran seems intent on threatening use – if they get an armed ICBM.
So, what is to be done? Good news is much can be done. First, the maximum pressure campaign should be joined by Europe, directed at preventing Iran’s obtaining an ICBM. If Iran gets one, no country is safe – including those in Europe. Diplomacy should be encouraged, making it Iran’s best option.
Second, the US should make clear – with allies – that any further move down this path will bring greater isolation, and potential preemptive actions. We need to prioritize readiness for those actions.
Third, the US needs to redouble our anti-missile ballistic missile defense, through kinetic and directed energy innovation and deployment. The time when we could count on Iran not being an ICBM threat is over. The combination of deterrence and active defenses should be prioritized and publicized.
While the US, UK, France and Germany condemned Iran’s satellite launch, concerted action is needed to stop Iran’s design of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Open sources indicate Iran is – despite protestations of a “peaceful space program” – working on engines that fit the profile of rockets “designed” to carry nuclear weapons.
While US sanctions have produced cuts in Iran’s military budget, the IRGC – same group that shot 1500 Iranian protestors in 2019, has harassed US naval ships (ala Trump’s retaliatory threat), and promotes terror across the Middle East – got increased funding from within the defense pool.
All things considered, Iran’s satellite launch on a newly designed rocket puts an ICBM within reach. Yes, we are all concerned about coronavirus, masks and social distancing, but Iran deserves renewed attention. From behind our masks, we need to keep eyes open. We cannot take our eyes off Iran.