Helsinki Times, 13 March 2014 **** Front Page

US adopts hard line on Iranian missiles

By Johannes Hautaviita

Negotiations aimed at reaching a permanent settlement of the nuclear dispute between Iran and the West continued last week in Vienna, Austria. The talks build on the foundation of the interim agreement signed last November. The following rounds of talks will commence next week.

Although last week's talks were hailed by both sides as productive, serious disagreements still have to be overcome before a final agreement can be reached. One such new issue is Iran's ballistic missile program. On 19 February, White House spokesperson Jay Carney asserted that the Iranians "have to deal with matters related to their ballistic missile program" in the upcoming nuclear talks. Washington views this missile program as an integral part of Iran's nuclear "threat".

Three days later in a press-conference, Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif countered by saying, "[n]othing except Iran's nuclear activities will be discussed in the talks with the six powers and we have agreed on it." Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi emphasised that the issue of missiles is "definitely among our red lines in any talks." Russia has also opposed the inclusion of Iran's missile program in the nuclear talks.

From Iran's point of view, its missile program is a central component of its defensive security strategy. According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Iran's "military strategy is designed to defend against external threats, particularly from the US and Israel. Its principles of military strategy include deterrence, asymmetrical retaliation and attrition warfare. Iran can conduct limited offensive operations with its strategic ballistic missile program and naval forces."

Uzi Rubin, former head of Israel's Missile Defense Organization and fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University is considered among the leading analysts on missile systems in the Middle East. His analysis on Iran's missile strategy is worth quoting at length.

Rubin questions the claim that the Iranian missile program is designed to deliver a nuclear warhead. "From a western point of view, long range ballistic missiles make sense only when they carry a nuclear weapon. This is a legacy of Cold War thinking. The Iranians don't see it that way. Missiles are for them what both tactical and strategic air power are for the West." According to Rubin, the "Iranians believe in conventional missiles", which comprise their "main striking power".

Echoing the analysis of US intelligence, Rubin asserts that Iran will use its missiles if attacked and says their main purpose is "to deter any U.S. or Israeli attack". This analysis is also supported by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, both former high-level foreign policy analysts at the US National Security Council and State Department. They assert that in order to "deter American or Israeli military action" Iran has "developed increasingly robust capabilities for asymmetric defense and deterrence". Since the 1990s, Iran has moved towards missile-based deterrence.

The threats against Iran are not just theoretical nit-picking. According to the Leverett's, Israel consolidated a "near-absolute freedom of military initiative" in the Middle East after the end of the cold war enabling it "not just to 'preempt' perceived threats but to 'prevent' them from arising in the first place–by striking first, with overwhelming force, whenever and wherever it deemed necessary."

In January, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the US is ready to use of force against Iran if diplomacy fails. Referring to the interim agreement, he stated: "We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if, before we go to war, there actually might be a peaceful solution." In contrast to the widespread condemnation of Russia's illegal threats and actions against Ukraine, illegal and routine US and Israeli threats and actions against Iran are a non-issue in Western public discourse.


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