This trend dovetails with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s May 2010 agreement to a swap with Iran of low- for high-enriched uranium in order to avoid further sanctions on Iran. Notably, Erdogan has posed an ominous question for the international community: “In fact, there is no nuclear weapon in Iran now, but Israel, which is also located in our region, possesses nuclear arms. Turkey is the same distance from both of them. What has the international community said against Israel so far? Is this the superiority of law or the law of superiors?”
So it is appropriate to ask: Whither goeth our erstwhile missile-defense partner in defending NATO territory, including the United States?
Meanwhile, Iran has been collaborating with North Korea on nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile technology and is sharing ballistic-missile technology with Venezuela. If these missiles are armed with nuclear warheads, Venezuela may threaten the United States in a 21st-century version of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Indeed, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles apparently play a key role in Iran’s emerging strategy. On June 29, British foreign secretary William Hague stated that Iran had “been carrying out covert ballistic missile tests and rocket launches, including testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload.” This statement complemented an IAEA report issued in June that said Iran was close to producing a nuclear warhead that could be carried by its intermediate-range ballistic weapons, and that the Shehab-3 nose cone has been redesigned to carry a nuclear warhead.
Iranian leaders have openly bragged about their progress, which they claim is independent of external help. Their claims, punctuated by a variety of recent events, indicate an aggressive, unmistakably deliberate Iranian strategy of threatening the United States and our overseas troops, friends, and allies. These events include the launching of Iranian-built submarines, tests of domestically built air-defense missiles and radar-evading missiles to threaten naval targets in international waters, and, most notably, a ten-day maneuver exercise last summer that involved the launching of some 14 ballistic missiles of various ranges, after which Iran’s defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, boasted: “The war games . . . show Iran’s great capability in designing, producing and using various kinds of missiles based on domestic knowledge. This showed that the sanctions imposed had no effect on Iran’s missile program.”
These developments significantly escalate the threat to Israel — often called the “Little Satan” by Iranian authorities — and to our European allies. And Iran’s successful launch in June of a satellite, Rasad — which means “observation” in Farsi — illustrates its progress toward the multi-stage long-range-missile capability needed to threaten directly the United States, or, as they call us, the “Great Satan.”
Relying on U.N. sanctions to deal with this escalating threat would be a triumph of hope over experience. As General Vahidi boasted, sanctions have been ineffective. In any case, hope is not a strategy; effective defensive capabilities are needed to counter Tehran’s aggressive programs, including nuclear-armed-missile threats to Israel and our other allies in the Middle East and Europe and a nuclear-armed-ICBM threat to the United States by as early as 2015, according to official U.S. estimates.
But shorter-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles could pose a threat to the United States even sooner — and recent declarations by Iranian officials make clear they are at least aware of this possibility. For example, the head of Iran’s navy, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, made the startling assertion in September that the Iranian navy could operate near U.S. “maritime borders.” According to the Iranian press, “top Iranian officials” later clarified this claim to include specifically ships that may go as far as the Gulf of Mexico.