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Iran: Defense Analyst Says Weapons Tests Signal 'Longer-Term Threat'

(RFE/RL) On April 3, Radio Farda correspondent Sharan Tabari spoke with Major Charles Heyman, a strategic-defense analyst at Jane's Strategic Advisory Services. Heyman discussed the recent Iranian missile tests and their implications for the security situation in the Middle East.

Radio Farda: On Sunday [April 2], Iran successfully conducted a test of its new missile, the Fajr-3, which it says can avoid radar and several targets simultaneously using multiple warheads. What are the implications of this in military terms?

Charles Heyman: Well, there are serious implications here. If Fajr-3 is exactly what the Iranians say it is, and if they were to have a lot of them, and if those missiles were to have nuclear warheads, it would mean they could strike Israel. It would mean that they could almost certainly create some tremendous mayhem in the Middle East, because the Israelis would either retaliate after a strike...[or] far more likely, the Israelis, once they believed these missiles were a direct threat to Israel, would do a preemptive strike.

So this is the Iranians to a certain extent really upping the ante here and making the situation in the Middle East a little more fragile. But it has to be said that it does look as though this missile is in its developmental stage. It doesn't look as though they've got an awful lot of them. And certainly at this moment, we are absolutely convinced they don't have a nuclear warhead to put on it.

Radio Farda: Can they carry nuclear warheads?

Heyman: It is possible, and we don't for certain at the moment. To get yourself a nuclear warhead that you can put inside a relatively small missile and trigger it at the exact moment in time that [you] want it to go -- there is an enormous amount of scientific development [and] technical work to be done to achieve that. I'm absolutely sure this is not something that is a direct threat tomorrow or even in the short term. It is going to be a longer-term threat.

Radio Farda: How long do you think it would take?

Heyman: We are talking years here. We are talking about a country that does not appear to have its own nuclear weapons at the moment. Even if they threw every single penny that they had at it, it would probably be between five and 10 years...before they could put a nuclear warhead into a missile like that.

'No Walkover'

Radio Farda: You said that this missile's range can easily reach Israel. What would be the reaction of the United States and Israel to this? How would it change the balance of power in the Middle East?

An Iranian missile test on April 4 (Fars)

Heyman: The reaction of the United States and Israel would be to watch this program very, very carefully. And certainly they would take some sort of preemptive action if they thought this program was actually moving very, very close to its end state and giving the Iranians the ability to make a nuclear strike against Israel. They'd probably move very, very quickly and very decisively before the Iranians got to that stage.

You have to remember, of course, that it is quite possible that the Iranians could put chemical or biological weapons in one of these missiles. But that is unlikely because the consequences are always unpredictable. So we have to look at this in the context of the rhetoric that is going on at the moment.

It may well be that these Iranian war games that are going on, which included the firing of the Fajr-3 and the underwater missile yesterday, are a demonstration to America and Israel saying, "We are not going to be a walkover and if you want to attack us in the short term, we are going to fight back." That's really, really what it looks like. It looks like a demonstration of some sort of Iranian strength, designed as a deterrent really to warn off the United States and its allies.

'Oil Weapon'

Radio Farda: Some have seen this as a threat to increase military action in the region or turn to the "oil weapon" and control the oil corridor in the [Persian] Gulf, rather than any further implications. What do you think of that?

Heyman: The control of oil is one of the cards that the Iranians have up their sleeve. Five percent of the oil out of that region comes from Iran. If there was military action, the Iranian oil, obviously, would stop. But the Iranians have the capability to interfere with the rest of the oil coming out of the gulf --and certainly in the area of the Strait of Hormuz.

This is something which the U.S. coalition is thinking very, very carefully about. The hit on the world's oil supply, even if there was a suggestion of military action tomorrow, would be very dramatic and would have severe economic consequences. I spoke to an economist a couple of weeks ago who said that if the Americans and their allies said they were going to make a strike at Iran, within a few hours the world oil price would be up at around $150 a barrel. How true that is, I don't know, because I'm not an economist myself. But all of us know because our common sense tells us that any sort of strike against Iran is going to have an effect on the oil price, and it's [also] going to have an effect on the economies of the West.

What The Street Thinks

What The Street Thinks

A demonstration in support of Iran's nuclear program outside the Isfahan uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan in January (epa)

IRANIANS SPEAK OUT ON THE DISPUTE: To find out more about what Iranians think about the international controversy over their country's nuclear program, RADIO FARDA asked listeners to express their views....(more)

See also:

Iran: Public Has Mixed Feelings On Nuclear Issue

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.