Iran's missiles not an existential threat, study says
Iran aims to produce hundreds of 'Super Katyusha' missiles to deter threat of Israeli attack.
Iran is currently capable of carrying out a conventional missile attack on Israel - a substantial but not existential threat, say two Israeli analysts who will present their research on Tehran's missile capacity tomorrow. The analysts consider Iran's missile arsenal its main deterrent and describe the country's significant investments in the area.
The research was carried out by Uzi Rubin, former head of the Defense Ministry's Homa Project (code for the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system), and Tal Inbar, head of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.
The two studies will be presented at an annual conference at the institute, which this year is dedicated to the missile and rocket threat on Israel.
The analysts' assessments are particularly relevant given estimates that Tehran is moving closer to acquiring a nuclear capability. The Western media is also speculating that Israel might carry out an attack against Iran's nuclear installations.
Rubin notes that while moderate Arab states emphasize air power, Iran and Syria (and by extension Hamas and Hezbollah) are adopting a "resistance" doctrine giving priority to missiles and rockets as the best response to Western air superiority.
Rubin relies on open source materials and says Iran showcases its missiles at every opportunity, while its leaders stress the weapon's importance to national security.
At a time when most Iranian military aircraft are remnants of the Shah era, the missile systems are significantly more modern and displayed during parades and expos. Test launches receive dramatic media coverage; Rubin says Iran's leaders describe their missile arsenal as the "heart of its deterrent." Its role is "to defend, deter and influence."
Iran's leaders have said they are ready to confront both the "enemies across the ocean" (the United States) and any Israeli attack. Iran has thus identified 35 enemy targets, including bases and concentrations of forces within 2,000 kilometers of the country's borders. This is the declared missile range in Iran's arsenal.
Since Tehran denies it is working on nuclear weapons, it also claims it does not develop missiles with a range exceeding 2,000 kilometers. It says the reports in the West are the product of "Zionist propaganda" aimed to frighten the Europeans.
Rubin adds that the Iranian missiles are presented to the public as scientific and engineering advances that show the regime's determination to protect the people. Rubin writes that "missiles are an equalizer, balancing the superiority of Israel's air force."
He says Iran prides itself on being able to produce missiles at a rate carmakers produce cars. "It is therefore reasonable to assume that Iran will aspire to acquire at least hundreds of Shehab missiles and rely on the Shehab as a sort of super-Katyusha," he writes.
Speaking with Haaretz, Rubin avoided estimating the number of long-range missiles currently in Iran's arsenal. But he appears to attribute to the missiles greater destructive power than the American researcher Anthony Cordesman, who said during a lecture in Israel last year that the number of Iranian missiles capable of striking Israel is very limited.
Inbar, meanwhile, notes the origins of Iran's focus on missiles: the damage caused by Iraqi bombing during the eight-year war between the two in the 1980s. Only at the end of that conflict did Iran speed up the development of its missile arsenal, with help from North Korea, China and Russia.
Inbar estimates that in two years, Iran's missiles will be capable of traveling 3,000 kilometers. In 2004, Iran successfully tested an upgraded Shehab-3 with a range of 2,000 kilometers.
Inbar describes "noncontinuous progress" in Iran's missile project, which has "holes and gaps" but is backed by excessive propaganda. The missiles, he writes, are perceived as Iran's "vertical bypass," enabling it to beat Israel's advanced air defense (which precludes air attacks on its territory).
According to Inbar, "Iran takes advantage of its missile arsenal in order to leverage an image of power in the Middle East that is beyond its real ability to participate in dictating the regional agenda." Inbar believes that "Israel must provide a credible response to the threat of Iran's missiles."
In the absence of such a response, Inbar says, Israel's civilians are threatened, and the country's ability to act, militarily and politically, might suffer as a consequence.