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Missile with a message
Iran's war games show concern and insecurity about its ability to defend itself


April 4, 2006

Tel Aviv – During the last few days, Iran has declared a breakthrough in its missile capabilities. The analysis below looks Iran's goals in the timing of its new missile revelations, and what this means for the West.

The fact that the new missiles are revealed only days after the UN gave Iran 30 days to stop enriching uranium, signal the fact that Iran is now following a tried and tested US and Israeli method. That method is: ‘leaks' or veiled threats about a possible military action against Iran reach the press, either before a new round of negotiations with Iran have started, or right after they have hit turbulent waters. These threats are a ‘warning' to Iran that if talks fail, Tehran will suffer the consequences. This time Iran took the initiative. It revealed its new missiles, days after the UN ultimatum, as a message to the west that two can play the threat game. Also if the talks fail, Iran won't be the only one who will suffer the consequences.

Missile Capabilities
The capabilities of the supposedly invisible “hoot” anti shipping missile are another warning message from Tehran. The range of present Iranian missiles is unable to reach US soil. The new hoot missile is Iran's weapon to damage the US, in its pocket, rather than its mainland. The straight of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf is where 25% of the world's oil passes through every day. The waters of the straight are shallow. Therefore if Iran sinks so much as one tanker passing through the straight, this will halt shipping. In the absence of further hostilities, it is estimated that it will take 5 days to one week to clear the straight and to allow oil shipping to resume. However if fighting does not abate and Iran continues to fire on approaching ships, it will take far longer to clear the straight, if at all, unless fighting stops altogether. This eventuality will almost certainly send the price of oil to new, and possibly in the long term unbearable highs for the US economy.

Until recently, Iran's submarine defence which is operated by the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corp, was not a match against US Navy's sophisticated sonar technology. The fact that Iran claims the new missile is ‘invisible' is Iran's way of warning the US that in case of an attack, US superiority in the sea will not be so clear cut. Even if war doesn't break out, Iran will use its newly found naval capability to win points in future rounds of negotiations with the west; be it over its nuclear programme, or over Iraq.

Iran also revealed another missile in the recent manoeuvres. The Fajr 3 is a missile that according to Iran “can avoid radars and hit several targets simultaneously using multiple warheads”.

The word “avoid radars” should be examined closely.

It is a known fact that Iran's radar systems are old and outdated. During the Iraqi invasion of Iran, on many occasions, Iraqi MiG-25s had actually reached Tehran when air raid sirens were activated. The situation for Tehran's citizens got worst when Saddam started firing his modified Scuds against Tehran. During such attacks, in almost all cases, Iran's radars were unable to detect the scuds. The only time Tehranis heard about the missile attack was after the massive bang, caused by the explosion of the missile upon impact.

Iran's radars were simply unable to detect the missiles, and thus unable to warn Tehran's citizens on time, in order to enable them to reach shelter. Saddam's missile attacks killed and maimed many, almost all civilians.

Since then, Iran's radar and electronic warfare has not improved by much, due to US imposed embargo on sale of weapons. Russia has also stayed away from upgrading Iran's radar capability. Therefore serious questions remain about the invisibleness of the new missiles. Even if the missiles are completely undetectable due to their speed, they are not the only types in the world with such characteristics. According to Deputy Commander of the IRGC navy Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, Iran's Hoot missile, which has a speed of 100 meters per second, shares this honour with two other foreign missiles. which he refused to name. The fact that other similar missiles do exist means that sonar capability of the western navies can be tested and improved against them.

Internal machinations

Despite the threatening message of the missiles, in reality they show Iran's concern and insecurity about its ability to defend itself, if attacked by the US. Iran knows that it will most likely suffer massive blows from a far superior and sophisticated US air and sea military machine.

This is why Iran has still not shut all doors on diplomacy, and won't be doing so until the last moment. Iran will continue to use threatening gestures, as it feels that it is in the crosshairs of the US. However it is ready to talk, for better or for worst. This was seen recently when the Iranian government, for the first time in its post revolutionary history, agreed to hold public face to face meetings with the US over Iraq.

This is a monumental moment. Before this the US and Iran did talk, however it was either done behind closed doors, or when US dignitaries visited Iran using fake Irish passports (Robert Macfarlane and Oliver North, Iran Contra, 1986).

What makes this new opportunity even more important that it was agreed during the tenure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is one of Iran's most conservative Presidents to date.

Many have brushed the talks aside. To ignore their importance and usefulness would be a mistake for the West. It would also be a massive blow to the pragmatist camp in Iran who wants to continue dealing with the West. For far too long, both US and Iran have tangoed to the tunes of threats and counter threat. Even though no miracles can be expected, the readiness shown by both sides (especially Iran) to hold direct talks is a first and important step in the long journey towards reconciliation. As Winston Churchill said, “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”.

The alternative to this is toothless economic sanctions against the Iranian people which are almost guaranteed to fail. War is always an option, although it is not recommendable one, for either side.

Meir Javedanfar is a Middle East Analyst and the Director or the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company, He has been quoted and interviewed by the BBC, Radio Holland International, Haaretz Newspaper and the Boston Globe as well as a number of other newspapers and Radio stations. For rights to quote this article please contact

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