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Space: The Iranian Missile Program's Big Test

Aviation Week is reporting that Iran is preparing to launch a Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) “soon.” While the potential to use the SLV for placing peaceful satellites into orbit is a possibility, the ability to weaponize such a capability is never far from the minds of most sensible analysts.

My first-hand knowledge is dated, but at one point in my career I spent a great deal of time watching a more capable and motivated nation attempt to achieve the same capability. The results tended to be disappointing for them and amusing to us. Despite having the best technology (stolen from the US) and some of the best minds (educated at our universities) more often than not the end result was a hole far from the intended target - or a fire on the gantry - than a successful flight. I understand that they’ve gotten better, though over a decade had to pass first.

As currently configured, an Iranian Shahab-3 can wreak havoc across the Persian Gulf. Properly modified into an ICBM (not outrageously different from an SLV) it could have an impact – literally and figuratively – almost anywhere between central Europe and western China. Current intelligence estimates suggest such a capability is possible inside of 10 years.

When the Shabab-3 was deployed in the late 90s, testing was not entirely successful, though subsequent launches have tended to go off with few hitches. Still, retrofitting an old design for the outer reaches of the atmosphere is unlikely to go off like clockwork. They could bring in outside help to assist; some reports indicate that the North Koreans are in Iran to help with nuclear tests, though sharing missile expertise is also a distinct possibility. Still the NoKos record in this field isn’t perfect.

If the launch is unsuccessful, we can expect a couple of things to happen; several Iranian rocket scientists will disappear, everyone in the Gulf region will breath a little easier, and they’ll step up research and testing to the point that current estimates will become very old very quickly. The urgency of the Iran problem will wane in the eyes of some as political hay is made about how far off they are from posing a threat to the homeland (ignoring the state-sponsored terrorism gorilla that is sitting in the corner).

If the launch is a success we can expect that our own timeline for action against Iran (and that of the Israelis) will be compressed. While there is a strong preference from this quarter for enhanced non-military support for anti-regime elements, Iran’s ability to rain “death from above” is likely to effectively end the nominal support for such work and stress a military response.

8 Comments

If you want to bring up gorillas, what about the red-white-and-blue gorilla occupying the center of the room? Just because the U.S. wants the oil in the region doesn't give us the right to be there. We are an invading force. If some other nation invaded Canada or Mexico, don't you think the U.S. would be justified in sending help, either overt or covert? The string of lies that got us into, and is keeping us in Iraq does not justify our presence there. It's only natural to expect Iran to come to the aid of their fellow Muslims and neighbors.

If Iran is "coming to the aid of their fellow Muslims and neighbors," why are they killing so many of them - Sunni and Shi'a - without prejudice?

You are so jaded by self-loathing that you cannot see rationally.

Mr. Schippert, I'm fascinated at your assumed ability to psychoanalyze me based upon the contents of a single post. I will make no further response to your ad hominem remark.

I will, however, do you the honor of addressing your question. Your statement that Iran is "killing so many of them - Sunni and Shi’a - without prejudice" implies that you have better intel than the entire U.S. government. Perhaps you could do your country a favor and offer your services to the CIA, NSA, or any of the other myriad intelligence agencies of the Federal government.

Frankly, I don't claim to know for certain who's doing what over there. My assertion was, "It’s only natural to expect Iran to come to the aid of their fellow Muslims and neighbors." Would we do any less for our neighbors?

I heard an expression once that was supposed to sum up the attitude of people in Islamic nations. I make no claims as to its currency, but it seems to hold true in observation: "Me against my brother. My brother and I against my cousin. My cousin and I against the world." I think we could make a case that this is true of most peoples.

WE are the outsiders there. Our presence is being resisted. We can ignore the right-or-wrong arguments about our reasons for being there. The fact is, we ARE there. We ARE being resisted. The resistance WILL NOT END as long as we remain. Why would it? I repeat, "Why would they stop resisting our presence there?" If you can answer that, then offer the U.S. your services as a diplomat.

Mr. Dehaven and Steve,

The original comment by Mr. DeHaven was published, as most are, without regard for the espoused viewpoint or allusion to a viewpoint it might contain. Steve then responds, perhaps with less distance and understanding than he (or TW) would have preferred.

Mr. DeHaven - your original comment either lacks enough context and detail to clarify your view or it reflects what many would reasonable interpret as a willingness to blame the US for the trouble in Iraq and perhaps farther across the Middle East. Steve responded in a manner that is not within our normal objective - yet in a way that is understandable, given your use of phrases such as "red-white-and-blue gorilla" or the statement that "Just because the US wants the oil doesn't give us the right to be there."

Unfortunately - your comments showed a greater lack of knowledge of the situation or the complexity of the situation on the ground (as well as from both political, diplomatic and ideological perspectives that drive actions in the region) than Steve either noticed or took the time to respond to.

Yes, the US would be right to respond and defend our neighbors should they be wrongfully attacked. Iran, however, has not limited its actions to supporting the people of Iraq - as good Muslims would do. Iran is an active sponsor of terrorism abroad and has been for a minimum of 24 years. In Iraq, the Iranian support for terror has only just begun to be made public - and it has been shown to be on both sides of the sectarian divide and not pointed directly at opposing the US or the nascent Iraqi government. Iran has sought to prevent the stabilization of Iraq and to increase sectarian tensions. Steve is well aware of that, as are those who regularly read his work here, and it was that which he was referring to.

Finally Mr. DeHaven, your second comment has been posted as well. While I'm unsure if you intended your remarks to be taken seriously or not, I can assure you that while the government may not be able (for military, diplomatic and unfortunately political reasons) to fully release the details of Iranian involvement in Iraq (whether official or unofficially sanctioned, encouraged or merely tolerated) the data is available to the agencies and decision makers one would expect to have it.

If you truly believe that Iran is simply aiding their Muslim brothers in Iraq - I would be more than willing to discuss with you the ways and means that one could reasonable go about doing that. And likewise, the actions that purported Shi'a and Sunni forces within Iraq - supported in one manner or another by Iran - have taken to ensure that their ikhwan do not seek unity and good will among each other.

Marvin,

Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoroughly to my post. I will attempt to do you the same courtesy. I will respond to each paragraph, numbering them from 1 to 6, beginning with the paragraph that starts, “The original comment…” For brevity’s sake, I will not include direct quotations unless necessary.

1. This seems to be saying that TW posted my comments in spite of the fact that they don’t agree with the tone of this blog. Fair enough. Is this site meant to be a forum for the exchange of ideas, or merely a meeting place for like-minded individuals to reinforce each others’ preconceived notions? If it is meant to be the latter, please inform me, and I will no longer post here. I don’t mean that to sound petulant. I’m simply promising to abide by your rules for the site.

2. Allow me to clarify my view: The U.S., specifically the Cheney/Bush administration, IS to blame for the current trouble in Iraq. In Iraq prior to our invasion, there were no WMDs, there were no ties to Al Qaeda, there was no connection to 9/11. So why did we invade, if not to oust Saddam and gain access to the oil? Why instead did we not concentrate our troops in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, if necessary), to capture or kill Osama bin Laden (OBL) and the others who WERE responsible, as our own government told us? Why, if OBL was responsible for 9/11, is he still alive and free? Why has our “mission” in Iraq continued to change? Why is Cheney’s Halliburton getting all those juicy, no-bid contracts in Iraq? These are the questions I intended with my “gorilla” comment. In short, WHY are we in Iraq?

3. I’ve admitted to my lack of detailed knowledge of the situation on the ground in the Middle East. As for the complexity, I will stipulate that as well, but I must ask, can it be made LESS complex by our presence there? Why are WE in Iraq?

4. You stress “wrongfully” attacked. Please see my remarks under #2 above. The remainder of paragraph 4 discusses Iran’s behavior, which does nothing to justify our presence IN IRAQ. Certainly Iran would like to see Iraq follow their own fundamentalist path. But first, they must participate in the eviction of the outsider (us) before they can bring that about. So why are we in IRAQ?

5. I am prone to sarcasm from time to time. I call those my “waking” hours. If my tone put anyone off, I regret it, but I hope you’ll find a kernel of truth there. As for the remainder of the paragraph, meant to reassure the reader that our government knows what it’s doing with regard to Iran, I don’t see how that’s germane to the question of WHY we’re in IRAQ.

6. This paragraph continues the discussion of Iran’s attempts to destabilize Iraq. Again, I will stipulate that. But again I ask, what does that have to do with us being in Iraq? These last three paragraphs appear to be leading to the conclusion that we are NOW in Iraq to prevent Iran from destabilizing Iraq. This is yet another iteration of the mission creep that began with the WMD story. So NOW why are we in Iraq?

I hope that my comments didn’t go too long. You need not post this if you think it’s excessive. Again, I sincerely promise not to post here again if you will clearly state to me that this site does not welcome opposing viewpoints. It’s your site, and you have every right to make the rules for it, and I will honor those rules. Please let me know.

Steve DeHaven

P.S. As background, I am a member of the U.S. Air Force, nearly 25 years now. I firmly believe in America and the Constitution, but I don’t feel obligated to blindly believe everything the government says, especially when it defies available evidence. That’s a statement of philosophy, which I’ve held to since long before our current series of Middle East involvements. I am as far from “self-loathing” or America-hating as a person can be. My political inclination is Libertarian, with emphasis on solid Constitutional government and personal responsibility. -- SD

Mr. DeHaven,

Thanks again for the reply. I'll try to keep this brief so we do not stray from the point of the original post any more than necessary.

First, my intent the first paragraph was to note that we don't block opinions or views that vary from our view or the views. You are, and will remain, welcome to comment at any time - so long as you avoid profanity, personal attacks, and the type of off topic commentary that some just can't resist.

Thanks for the clarification of your view. It is not unlike what we surmised from your original content but it is much better to know than to guess.

Based on your statements I think the simplest response that I can give in good faith is to address a couple of the issues and then perhaps we can agree to limiting future discussions to how to resolve the issues going forward (or at least to the US role in their resolution).

The current administration, as well as the preceding administration and the world at large, believed the Hussein regime maintained WMD's. And whether he did or did not, he clearly failed to meet the requirements placed upon him following the war in 1991. You are correct when you say that there was no 9/11 connection. That said - I know of no administration officials or members of our organization who would say otherwise. What we do know, as did the 9/11 commission and others, is that the Hussein regime did have a developing relationship with al-Qaeda and moreover a policy of supporting and possible encouraging international terrorism (even if limited to attacks on Israel - which is not clear).

We could spend a great deal of time attempting to determine the 'hidden' causes of the invasion - however I believe we are better served at this juncture to accept that the invasion occurred, the regime was defeated, and afterwards we failed to adequately address three significant forces that would be directed against us and a stable Iraq. Those include the former Ba'ath and the Sunni lead insurgency, the armed militias of the Shi'a, and the then primarily foreign led and manned forces aligned with al-Qaeda. Does our presence make the situation more complex - at times and some regards absolutely. Yet we can be assured that our presence also provides the most significant opportunity for the people of Iraq to defeat those who would oppress them - whether Sunni, Shi'a, jihadiyun or secularist, native or foreign.

While I hope you will continue to read and comment at ThreatsWatch, if you truly believe that the US wrongfully attacked Iraq and as such is the problem rather than working against the problems that have attempted to fill the void of power and authority left by Saddam's removal - then perhaps we will never find many points in common - aside from our faithful allegiance to the Constitution, to the principles of life and liberty and to our common hope that those values common to so many in the US, will be found by others.

As for me, I thank you for your service to our country, and I hope that you'll recognize that what we are attempting to do is aid - even if only in a tiny way - the cause of liberty abroad. We believe that now that we are in Iraq - the US must play a role in the development of s state where men and women may choose liberty over oppression.

If I may, I'm going to toss my "$3 bill" into the ring and offer these comments and observations:

1) Clearly and undeniably, Hussein either ignored or violated every UN Resolution following the first Persian Gulf War. So whether or not the "subject weapons" still existed in Iraq on the eve of the invasion is largely irrelevant. How the rest of the world could ignore that is beyond me.

2) I am in the camp that the "subject weapons" were more likely than not moved at some point - probably before the UN weapons inspectors arrived (if that is a valid conclusion, then their location remains an important future discovery and their existence is a continued threat).

3) During the build-up to the War, including General Powell's presentation to the UN, enormous amount of publicity and attention were drawn to the "subject weapons" and therefore, established an expectation in many people's minds. But it is not too surprising that some Americans would now express disenchantment (admitting that there are stronger words and emotions often used) that the weapons were not found.

4) Ridding the world of Hussein was clearly a good thing. But that alone was not the originally stated or intended objective. Had the "subject weapons" been found, the disposal of Hussein and his sons would have been deemed a natural extension.

5) As my associate Marvin wrote, there were a number of miscalculations. IMO, one of the most important of those was not seeing the emergence of a resistance and the outbreak of religious and ethnic violence based on age-old differences in what became Iraqi society after the French and British created Iraq out of the defeated Ottoman Empire (see Sikes-Picot Agreement

6. Key to what Marvin has written is that "now that we are in Iraq - the US must play a role in the development of a state where men and women may choose liberty over oppression." Although the dynamics of the Middle East have changed since the invasion (actually they changed on the morning of September 11th, 2001 - and I am not drawing any connection between september 11th and Iraq), the region remains dangling by a thread. Perhaps more on point is that today's "domino effect" is in play in the Middle East, and the future of the region may be determined only by the establishment of stable, if not democratic, governments. We have no choice.

I hope that I made sense.

Thanks, Marvin and Jay, for your rational and intelligent remarks. I think we're on common ground in our love for our nation, and I hope we may come closer to seeing eye-to-eye on the subject of Iraq. I also hope we can, as Marvin recommends, get this topic back to "the way ahead."

I understand that the administration's current position on Iraq is that we're there to help them achieve liberty. At some stages in a nation's development, intervention by an established power can be key in helping the developing nation reach its goals. A case in point is France's assistance to the Colonies during the Revolutionary War. However, that assistance was, in scope, roughly equivalent to that of someone at the sidelines of a marathon, handing their chosen runner a well-timed cup of Gatorade. The help is important, but the "runner" must first enter the race, and still has to do all the hard work.

I didn't see Iraq entering such a race. Instead, we showed up with our "cup of Gatorade," forced Iraq to drink, then tried to get them to run. When they didn't, we picked them up and piggy-backed them the first 25 miles or so, all the while telling ourselves, "when they see that beautiful finish line, surely they'll jump off and finish the race for themselves." It doesn't work that way! Running a race has to be the runner's idea first.

The way ahead? I'm a poker player. One of the most basic principles of poker is this: It doesn't matter how much money you've already put into the pot--when you know you're beaten and your opponent knows he can't lose, fold. Stop throwing away American lives. I know, we want to throw out our chests and say, "America doesn't cut and run." We're afraid of looking like cowards. My answer to that: Douglas MacArthur's "I shall return." Or, if you want a more macho image, Ah-nold's "I'll be back." Tell Iraq that when they can show the world that this is something THEY want, we'll be there to help.

Democracy and liberty are not gifts that can be handed out to nations. They are trophies that first must be wanted, and then must be siezed at the point of a bayonet or the muzzle of a gun. Of course, that statement is a philosophical one; clearly, my philosophy differs widely from that of the current administration. So be it. That's why we have elections and (thank FDR) term limits. I would only ask you to consider this: If we can find justification in the U.S. Constitution for us to engage in this type of nation-building, then where do we draw the line? Can we invade every country to which we want to "bring liberty?" If so, don't we cease to be a democratic republic, and become an Empire? Empires are ruled by Emperors, and that's not democracy. Do we lose our soul to save Iraq's?