This following summary is also from the CSIS report on the Iranian nuclear and missile capabilities provided by Anthony H. Cordesman. While the previous post was more focused on the actual report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, this is more of an analysis by Cordesman on the current situation. The author looks at the overall military capability by Iran, conventional and possible nuclear, and the United States view and potential policies on Iran.
Cordesman states that Iran has a massive military program, one that has been developed into a ballistic based potential. While Iran does have a significant missile force capable of reaching Israel, the ballistic missile technology is based on Russian, North Korean and Chinese technology. The long-range ballistic capabilities lack the accuracy and lethality to properly act as a deterrent against foreign threats and this is why that Iran has been substituting its asymmetric warfare forces for its inability to modernize its conventional forces to compete with the US and other Gulf regional players. While the Iranian missile force is the largest in the Middle East, the lack of accuracy does not pose a threat to conventional military balance.
The most prolific threat to the stability in the Middle East, especially between Israel and its Arab neighbors are the conventional weapons. One example of the ballistic potential of Iran’s arsenal is the Shahab-3, a medium-range missile. This missile has a range of 1,000km and 1,500km, while some varieties have a capability of up to 2,500km. Reports also exist about a “smart” anti-ship missile, called the Khalij Fars, which has a range of 150km. If used to its full potential, this missile could upset the naval balance of the region.
As stated before, while most of the technology is not up to par with other modern weaponry from the United States, the use of CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, and Nuclear) weapons could upset the military balance of the Middle East. However, the amount of nuclear facilities in use by Iran is unknown.
US View of Iran’s Nuclear Missile Efforts
While much information is open to public access, more exists as classified; therefore we need to make analysis based on the information available to everyone. The author uses the unclassified information to his best ability to give his view on the situation.
It is clear that Iran has continued developing a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons. As already addressed in the IAEA report, there has been an expansion of nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment related to the Heavy Water Production Plants.
Some of the missile capabilities have been discussed above, and it is well-known that Iran has many short and medium range ballistic missiles. There is also a claim of a 2000km range missile known as the Ashura and a two stage rocket known as Sejil.
Russian entities have previously helped in the ballistic development while Iran remains very dependent on foreign suppliers for components.
Iran has announced intentions of joining the space community by sending its own satellites into space, reported back in 2005.
The chemical and biological side has fewer implications for the United States but plays a major role in the Middle East. Research in the fields may have offensive applications and there is a possibility of weaponization of chemical and biological agents.
The Potential Impact of Iranian Nuclear Weapons on US and Iranian Capabilities
The author makes a point against the outburst of reports over the Iranian proliferation. While the possibility of Iran having a weapon of such scale would tip the balance in the region, Iran still does not possess a nuclear weapon. Nuclear tests have never been conducted, no plans for developing certain types or yields are known and using delivery systems to gain influence, deter or just for warfighting purposes.
As long as Iran does not allow Agency teams in to investigate, governments and intelligence agencies need to make assumptions over the possibility. Given the state of much of its air force and rest of the conventional military, there is an increased probability of nuclear warheads, as well as covert means of transporting and using a nuclear weapon.
Implications for US Policy
It is clear that the US has the conventional superiority but this is why Iran may be seeking to use asymmetric strategy to counteract American influence. Iran would most likely attempt to expand the unconventional capabilities as a deterrent and expand regional influence and reach. Iraq and Lebanon have already been known proxies for Iranian agents, as well as Iran’s one ally, Syria.
Iran has the capability to do damage but incapable of a decisive victory, a fact that may deter any Iranian aggression for the time being. In the meantime, the US needs to improve detection mechanisms and early warning systems. The US is already attempting to expand its missile defend shield and this would be a further deterrent against Iran.
While Israel has been threatening with strikes against the nuclear facilities in Iran, such a preemptive strike against immature programs would not work at this time. Such a move could just fuel Iran with justification for the proliferation of nuclear weapons against the Zionist aggressor.