As Iran test-fired more long-range missiles for the second time this week, the U.S. Air Force general who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency tells RFE/RL he expects Iranian missiles will soon have a range to target all of Europe.
Lieutenant General Henry A. Obering also says he believes Iran wants to put nuclear warheads on its missiles.
Obering spoke after the signing this week in Prague of a controversial missile-defense pact between the United States and the Czech Republic, aimed at defending against missile threats from rogue states such as Iran.
On July 9, Iran said it fired nine long- and medium-range missiles "in response to threats coming from the United States and Israel." Iranian state television reported more test-firings on July 10.
State-run Press TV said the missiles included a new version of the Shahab-3, with a 2,000-km range, putting them in striking distance of Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.'Why Are They Doing That?'
However, in a telephone interview with Hossein Aryan of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Obering warned that Iran will soon be able to target any country in Europe.
“We have indications that they are going to achieve even longer and longer ranges," Obering said. "In fact, I believe that they will be able to target all of Europe in the next two to three years. All of Europe. And you have to ask yourself, 'Why?' Why are they doing that? If they are only concerned with the regional conflict with Israel, why are they doing this for all of Europe?”
It doesn’t make sense to me that they would be making those investments, unless they had a weapons -of-mass-destruction program to match up with that...
And because the Shahab-3 carries a relatively weak conventional payload with poor accuracy range, Obering says it makes no sense for Tehran to invest in such technology -- unless Iran has other motives.
“Iran is obviously investing a lot of money in developing and fielding more and more capable missiles of longer and longer range," Obering said. "It doesn’t make sense to me that they would be making those investments, unless they had a weapons-of-mass-destruction program to match up with that, because that would justify that investment. Without that, only flying a conventional warhead of even a thousand kilograms or whatever the payload size may be, would not make sense.”
Obering also questions why Iran, if it is only concerned about regional threats, is seeking missiles with ranges that would extend well beyond the region.
“When you reach 2,000 kilometers, that is well beyond a range that you would need for a regional conflict with Israel," he said. "Within even 1,300 kilometers, you could reach most of the U.S. bases in the region. So it doesn’t make any sense in a regional context for them to be developing longer and longer range weapons. So I think it adds to the urgency as to why it’s important that we signed the agreement with the Czech Republic ... and that we continue to make progress in the development of these capabilities.”
Iran’s missile tests come amid rising tensions over its nuclear program and just weeks after Israel held its own naval war games. Iran continues to reject calls by the United States and European powers to halt its uranium enrichment program, which it says is solely for civilian purposes.Change Strategic Balance
Despite the West’s apparent unity on Iran, Obering says that with more sophisticated missiles and in the absence of any missile defense, Iran could one day be able to change the strategic balance in Europe.
“You could change the geopolitical connections and the security alliances that we have relied upon collectively for so many years, just with the ability to threaten a European capital without any defense against that threat," Obering said. "And so, we believe that that’s why it’s important to build these defenses.”
In its pact with Prague, the United States intends to build a radar base for a planned missile-defense system that is also intended to include interceptor rockets stationed in Poland.
Russia rejects U.S. arguments that the missile shield is intended to prevent attacks by rogue states and sees it as a threat to its national security. Moscow said this week that it would respond with "military-technical methods" if the U.S.-Czech agreement is ratified by the Czech parliament.