Iran could target Africa, Western Europe within next four years

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Iran could target large parts of north and east Africa – including the US base area in Djibouti and perhaps Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean as well as western Europe with missiles by 2014, says the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), although it will take at least twice as long before they can hit the United States itself.

The London-based think tank says Iran is making “robust strides” in developing ballistic missiles “in tandem” with its efforts to expand its nuclear capabilities. “The two programmes appear to be connected, with the aim of giving Iran the capability to deliver nuclear warheads well beyond its borders,” it says in a new report on Iran’s capabilities released yesterday.

The report adds Iran’s missile development program appears connected to its push to expand its nuclear capabilities, “with the aim of giving Iran the capability to deliver nuclear warheads beyond its borders,” Reuters and French news agency AFP reports. Reuters adds the IISS says it expects Iran to seek to master intermediate range missiles – that can travel between 3500 and 5500km — before it attempts to build intercontinental (ICBM) missiles, which have a range above 5500 km.
“Logic and the history of Iran’s revolutionary missile and space launcher development efforts suggest Tehran would develop and field an intermediate range missile before embarking on a program to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the American East coast, 9000 km away,” the IISS says.
“It is thus reasonable to conclude that a notional Iranian ICBM, based on No-Dong and Scud technologies, is more than a decade away from development,” it added, referring to missiles developed by the former Soviet Union and later North Korea. AFP says Iran’s ballistic missiles could be used to wage a terror campaign in the Middle East, although the IISS says its missiles are at present too inaccurate to shut down another country’s critical military activities. While Iran has been alongside North Korea in developing missile capabilities, Tehran has now surpassed Pyongyang in terms of technical ability, the IISS experts add.
“Flight test programmes for solid-propellant missiles historically take on average more than four years,” the report said. “To achieve a reasonable measure of reliability and confidence, a dozen or more test flights should be conducted. Therefore, Iran is not likely to field a liquid-fuelled missile capable of targeting western Europe before 2014 or 2015.”

The “worst-case scenario” projected at the turn of the century about Iran being able to strike the United States within five years has not materialised, the study said.

Iran’s space programme launches have been “proof-of-principle demonstrations”, offering no immediate strategic value beyond symbolism, said the report.

The military utility of Iran’s existing ballistic missiles is “severely limited because of their very poor accurac”, although the IISS adds this could be good enough to use as a political weapon against adversary cities. “While such attacks might trigger fear, the expected casualties would be low — probably less than a few hundred, even assuming Iran unleashed its entire ballistic missile arsenal and that a majority of the warheads penetrated missile defences.

Reuters adds the IISS report appears in line with a May 2009 US National Intelligence Estimate that deemed Tehran unlikely to have a long-range missile until between 2015 and 2020, according to US officials who saw the report at the time. The 2009 estimate was revised from an earlier range of 2012 to 2015. However on April 19 this year, an unclassified Defense Department report on Iran’s military said that with sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be able to build a missile capable of striking the United States by 2015.