Though still light years behind Western technology, many Gulf states are working hard to improve their offensive military capabilities, which could spell trouble for the United States and its allies in the near-term.
One weapon being coveted by Middle East nations is the ballistic missile, and though none have nuclear-armed intercontinental missiles like the West, recent reports indicate that some have managed to design and build missiles capable of threatening neighbors hundreds of miles away for the first time in their history.
One of the most notable examples is Iran’s Shahab series (“Shahab” means “meteor” or “shooting star” in Farsi), the latest of which was reportedly flown some hundreds of kilometers earlier this month.
Iranian military officials announced a week ago that they had successfully test-fired a new short-range missile, but did not give its range. Within days, however, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said the missile had exceeded 200 kilometers (125 miles).
“It has high technical capability to the extent that it does not need updating for at least seven years,” he told Agence France-Presse.
In addition to short-range missiles, Iran also is developing the longer-range Shahab 3, which, according to the Federation of American Scientists, is based on North Korea’s “No-Dong I” ballistic missile and reportedly has a range of some 1,300 kilometers (807 miles) – putting some of Israel in range.
A test of the Shahab 3 failed in January, but later reports said Iranian officials announced subsequent successful tests of the missile. Also, a report in Middle East Newsline Oct. 17 said Iran had placed the missile in serial production and was able to turn out about 20 per year using North Korean engines.
Since the program began, U.S. intelligence sources say China has begun assisting Iran’s Shahab series development, which includes technology for better guidance systems and solid-fuel motors – similar assistance that Beijing provided Pakistan when it was developing its Ghauri II missile.
“This missile represents the most potent hardware in Iran’s growing missile force,” said a July 15, 2001, assessment published by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
Neighboring Syria, meanwhile, first tested semi-modern SCUD-C missiles – imported from North Korea – as early as 1992. By June 2000, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz reported that, based on U.S. and Israeli intelligence, China was helping the Iranians and Syrians build a factory to manufacture missile engines, guidance systems and solid propellant.
Since then analysts say Damascus has not only been working to acquire better ballistic-missile technology, but is building the means to conceal and defend them from attack.
According to Tim Brown, an analyst for Global Security, recent satellite photographs show increased construction around sites thought to be military development centers or underground storage facilities for missiles, their components or chemical weapons.
“The Syrians are interested in solid [fuel] rocket motor technology and were trying to acquire that from Russia,” but had no luck doing so, Brown told WorldNetDaily. Instead, he said, “Iran bought remnants of one of the Russian rocket-motor factories and then sold it to the Syrians.”
Satellite photo of Al Safir SCUD-D missile base and weapons depot shows entrances to underground facilities that may be used to build missiles or house chemical agents. Photo used with permission of Digital Globe.
Regarding the recent satellite photos, “we simply do not know what’s being produced” at many sites, said Brown. But, he added, there is much “circumstantial evidence that indicates” the construction is related to the building of “either chemical weapons or missiles and components.”
Also, U.S. intelligence says, China has provided launchers for some missiles.
Other nations, such as Egypt and Libya, are working to acquire better ballistic missile technology. But Cairo receives some $2 billion in aid from the U.S. annually and has no incentive to market its missile capabilities to enemies of Israel, the West’s staunchest ally in the region.
Libya, however, has renewed its interest in ballistic missiles in recent years and has the sole distinction of having fired missiles at a U.S. base. In 1986, at the time of the U.S. air attack on Tripoli, Libya launched two SCUDs against a U.S. Coast Guard facility on Lampedusa Island, which lies between Libya and Sicily. Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi said at the time that if they had missiles with longer range, he would have fired them at the large U.S. Sixth Fleet base in Naples.
On Thursday, a Geostrategy Direct report published by WorldNetDaily said Iran is training for nuclear warfare as well as attacks from the United States.
Recent training exercises have included “simulated attacks using nuclear weapons,” said Geostrategy Direct, quoting Iranian sources.
That Iranian sources would publish such information “is an indication that Iran is preparing its forces for warfare involving tactical nuclear weapons in the future,” said Geostrategy Direct. “Tehran has said that it is not building nuclear arms, but U.S. intelligence agencies remain convinced Tehran is using nuclear power generating equipment provided by Russia and China as part of a covert nuclear arms program.”
Israel, the West’s staunchest ally in the region, was the first to take note of the overall increased threat of ballistic missiles.
“There is another threat in the Middle East – the threat is ballistic missiles,” said Israel Air Force Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliahu in February 2000. “Our strategy, as well as our politics and tactics, have to be changed to be adaptive [to these threats]. The number is growing and the ranges of these missiles is getting longer.”
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