Iranian Missile Tests and Threats

For just a moment, let us stand in the shoes of Iranian decision-makers to speculate why they tested their missiles this week and why they made threats of using them against Israel.

Iran’s Fars News Agency quotes Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s Islamic revolution that “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth,” while Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Teheran “needs no permission to enhance the countries defence capabilities.” There appears to be no direct connection between these two statements as Israel has made no threats against Iran.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported that the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had said that the drill had Iran’s enemies “shivering from the roar” of the missiles.

The Iranian missile launches and tests this week bearing the statement “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth” demands the idiom “closing the door after the horse has bolted.” The tests came minutes after Israel and the United States concluded a joint military exercise named “Juniper Cobra.”

The planned drill which simulated a series of missile and rocket attacks against Israel also included Israel’s “Magic Wand” air defence system and the live fire launch of PATRIOT missiles. More than 1,700 American troops were involved. All in all, a successful exercise against the type of threat that Iran could pose.

Iran’s state-run Press TV cites Brigadier. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ aerospace division said that  the tests are “in line with the country’s defence doctrine” and show the country’s “full readiness to confront all kinds of threats against the Revolution, establishment and territorial integrity.”

Surely they cannot be that ignorant of facts, of opinions, of technology, and of responses. But clearly they are.

Clearly Iran doesn’t understand that the joint US Israel drill with innovative defence capabilities demonstrates that Iranian missiles will not achieve their stated goal of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. Clearly Iran doesn’t understand that this means that making such threats or attempting such an act will only serve to bring the United States to Israel’s defence. Clearly Iran doesn’t understand that this means that the ultimate loser in such a diplomatic or military confrontation will be Iran.

The first indication of this is an appraisal that Iran has most likely broken UN Resolution 2231 not to undertake such ballistic missile activity. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Iran “to act with moderation, caution and the good sense not to increase tensions” which they clearly have done. So the Iranian missile tests will most likely result in a UN debate on punitive measures against Iran.

The second indication is the reassurance of US Vice President Biden, visiting in Israel that the United States will stand by Israel and take measures against Iran. So Iran instead of enhancing deterrence through such missiles tests has instead become ostracized.

All of this comes at a time when the world has shown readiness to improve relations with Iran. So an observer can only speculate that maybe Iran means Saudi Arabia instead of Israel when making threats and tests. Surely Iran sees Sunni as a real threat and not the Zionist existence?

Even so, it does seem highly unlikely that Iran has the ability to deter and defend against the entire Sunni world should it decide to take diplomatic, economic or military action against minority Shia Iran.

Maybe the best explanation is that Iranian leaders are using the tests and threats for domestic politics. Maybe the threats and tests are a result of the Reformists winning the recent elections for the Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. Maybe they feel the need to demonstrate that despite being Reformists that they are not weak. But then again, surely they cannot be that naïve to believe that the Iranian population are that naïve and dim-witted.

So let me issue an appeal to Iranian leaders, please do help us understand your statements and actions. The world does want to befriend you!

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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