The US and Israel have long claimed to have serious concerns about Iranian scientific research and military activities, and have taken practical measures to make sure Iran doesn’t get what it intends to achieve in those fields. The nuclear deal was also a part of major initiatives by the West to limit Iran’s nuclear program, and halt its technological developments and research. The deal helped P5+1 to have access to the nuclear activities of Iran through International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) surveillance. Similarly, Israel also has been worried about Iran’s progress in this field and is aggressively active in sabotaging Iran’s efforts via various means such as cyber attacks on nuclear sites, physical theft of Iran’s military files, and assassination of its scientists working on different programs.
Despite these continued efforts to contain Iranian activities in military and defense advancements, Iran is growing and has managed to get its hands on some advanced, sophisticated, and highly effective military technologies and equipment such as defence systems Bavar-373, the Russian S-300 surface-to-air system, and anti-ship and aircraft technology, ballistic missiles, radar systems, satellite technology Simrogh, Khordad, Zoljanah, and most importantly, the possibility of access to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology. This last, of course, is perceived as a direct threat by the USA.
Does Iran have the technology to build an ICBM?
Iran has long worked on its missile and space technology. The Iranian stance of not suspending its missile and space program is described as “the necessary measures for a strong defense and scientific progress.”
The same technology – from rocket launching to GPS guidance – that is used in space technology is also used in building long-range missiles. For Instance, the GPS used on China’s Long March 2 and 3 space rockets is also used on China’s CSS-4 (DF-5) ballistic missile, which is targeted at the USA, and the GPS used on China’s “Smart Dispenser” to deploy two Iridium communication satellites is also used on the M-9 (CSS-6) and M-11 (CSS-X-7) missiles targeted on Taiwan. The US believes that Iran aims at something similar: using space tech to build long-range missiles.
Iran has increased the work on its missile technology in the last two decades and has achieved significant success. Already, the Ain al-Asad air strikes show the precision, accuracy, and lethality of their weapons. Along with its missile program, Iran has actively worked on its space program, resulting in a recent successful test flight of the Qaem-100 satellite carrier and other major achievements of Zoljanah and Simorgh rocket launchers.
The US intelligence community stressed in its threat assessment report that Iran is inching closer to developing an ICBM, as it uses the same technology in its space program as used in the development of an ICBM. One report said, “the development of space launch vehicles could also serve as a testbed for the development of ICBM technologies.” Khamenei’s representative Nassir Hosseini claims that Iran’s New Qaem-100 Satellite Launcher Is also an ICBM that can target America.
What would a hypothetical ICBM’s effectiveness be, and how can it change the level of engagement between Iran, Israel, and the USA?
The first ICBMs were deployed by the Soviet Union in 1958; the United States followed the next year and China some 20 years later. This type of missile is hard to intercept, and so far, even American arrangements for intercepting an ICBM are seen as unreliable.
If Iran successfully test-fires an ICBM, considering its major success in test flights of Qaem-100 and other space launchers, it will reshape and restate the terms of engagement between these countries. This would mean Iran can use them in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, etc, and will give Iran the upper hand or balance the situation in table talks with any of the world or regional powers. Such missiles are hard to be intercepted and possess a great danger to the targeted state.
However, having these weapons is not what shows their effectiveness and proves deterrence: rather, the credibility of using those is what makes a change. Iran has the credibility of taking action against US forces and the attack on the Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq is proof of that. In fact, Washington knows this well. If Iran gets an ICBM, the US and Israel would have to be more cautious in contemplating hostile actions against Iran, as they know that Iran has the will to strike and might respond by hitting at any of their bases with more precision and lethality. In short, the US can ill afford to been seen so vulnerable.
Moreover, the possession of ICBMs will also severely affect the nature of engagement with Israel too. So far, Israel operates on an impression of being ‘undefeatable’ based on its history of engagements with the Arab states. Already in 2006, Hezbollah put a dent in this view. And that was a Lebanese group supported by Iran.
The odds for an Israel-Iran confrontation become very different if the latter has ICBMs.
It is likely that Western powers will align yet more closely with anti-regime forces within Iran. A stable Iran will be a country that has more space to pursue the development of weapons technology. The weapons once termed “Plastic Missiles“and “photoshopped” are increasingly a source of concern for US, Israeli and European officials.