Iran: Military Posturing and a Missile Test

3 MINS READJul 9, 2008 | 16:03 GMT
AFP/Getty Images
Iran tested a Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile July 9. Tehran claims the missile has a range of 1,240 miles or more, sufficient to threaten Israel. The test comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions in the region. But even so, a certain degree of military posturing is to be expected at this stage in negotiations with Washington, and it neither reveals a new military capability nor heralds military confrontation.
Iran reportedly has conducted a test launch of a Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile July 9 as part of its Great Prophet III military exercises, Iranian state media reported. The missile, which was one of several tested as part of the same exercises, reportedly had a range of 1,240 miles — sufficient to reach Israel. While this is not a new claim, the test and the exercises come at a time of increased tensions with Israel, which conducted a long-range strike exercise over the eastern Mediterranean in June, simulating an attack on Iran. Even so, a certain amount of military posturing is to be expected at this stage of negotiations, meaning the test and the vaunted range do not herald any sort of military confrontation. Video apparently from Arabic-language Iranian news channel Al Alam showed a pair of launches. The first was of a smaller missile or rocket. Though the footage is blurry, the device appears to be a Scud variant. The Shahab-3 test quickly followed. This device featured the traditional conical nosecone of the operational Shahab-3 rather than the newer, more distinctive Shahab-3A. (Iran has been known to use more than one name for minor modifications to, or developmental and production variations of, the same basic missile.) The exact ranges of the various Shahab-3 variants are unclear. They are rarely tested at full range, instead being launched in a lofted trajectory that significantly shortens the distance covered. Though this is not uncommon in some phases of missile testing due to missile range restrictions, it effectively leaves a large gap between the claimed and demonstrated range of Iran's missile arsenal. Details on the test are scarce, and no new meaningful data has yet emerged. Iran continues to insist on the 1,240-mile range figure — which, unsurprisingly, is just about exactly the range Tehran would need to threaten Israel from Iran's western border with Iraq. It remains unclear whether Iran yet has the capability to reach Israel with its missiles, much less conduct a meaningful military strike. (Current estimates of Shahab-3 accuracy range from more than half a mile to more than 1.5 miles circular error probable.) Nevertheless, the testing comes in the wake of a June Israeli Air Force exercise that simulated an attack on Iran and a new spike in rhetoric — both inside the region and beyond — about war with Iran. But to a certain extent, military posturing is to be expected at this stage in the negotiations. Indeed, the choice of Al Alam, an Arabic broadcaster, might suggest that Tehran wants its neighbors to notice the test most. But ultimately, with a far more important deal with Washington over the fate of Iraq potentially close at hand, these latest missile tests and the Iranian military exercises as a whole are unlikely to herald any sort of military confrontation. Despite the bellicose posturing by both the United States and Iran, the two sides are rapidly moving toward a negotiated settlement on Iraq and the nuclear issue. Such high-stakes negotiations do not take place without the involved players maintaining a defiant public attitude.

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