What Iran’s missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq may say about the Islamic Republic’s ballistic capability
Iran fired at least a dozen missiles early Wednesday, local time, at U.S. military bases in Iraq, in an apparent retaliation against the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top general who led Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Wall Street Journal reported that two military bases, one at Erbil in northern Iraq and another at Al Asad in western Iraq, were struck, but according to early reports, there have been no casualties indicated yet.
The rapid-fire missile attack may mark the first time that the Islamic Republic has directly struck U.S. military or other state targets and acknowledged doing so, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif via Twitter had this to say: “Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of U.N. Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.”
“This would be the first time since Iran-Iraq War that Tehran has directly launched missiles against a state, rather than at non-state or sub-state entities,” wrote Michael Elleman, a senior fellow of nonproliferation and nuclear policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London-based think tank in a Tuesday tweet.
“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” Zarif wrote.
It’s unclear if the statement will, indeed, conclude rising tensions between Tehran and Washington, as the Pentagon said that damage was still being assessed at the bases. However, military experts said that, if nothing else, the attack may reveal improvements in Iran’s ballistic-missile systems.
A Washington Post article described improvements in Iranian ballistic prowess as making a “quantum change,” citing precise mid-September attacks by apparent Iranian forces on Saudi Arabian oil facilities as one key sign of its advancements.
“What we’ve seen in Iran in the past few years is a change from missiles that were mainly political or psychological tools to actual battlefield weapons. This is a quantum change,” the Post quoted Fabian Hinz, who works at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif, as saying.
The Post continued:
The result is a line of short- and medium-range missiles that can deliver warheads with an accuracy range in the tens of meters, a Defense Department intelligence official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive assessments of Iran’s military capability.
Back in the 1980s, Iran’s most sophisticated ballistic weaponry consisted of versions of Cold War-era Scud missiles developed by the former Soviet Union, which offered a limited range and low accuracy. It also has used ballistic technologies from China and North Korea, according to reports.
Iran currently has what is described as one of the largest arsenals of ballistic missiles in the world, which can strike targets up to 1,250 miles away, but haven’t always been on target. U.S.-led sanctions also have hampered its efforts.
That may have changed.
According to Reuters, Iran has produced highly accurate short-range missiles which it hasn’t publicized, quoting Iranian Deputy Defence Minister General Qassem Taqizadeh.
The distance between Tehran and the military bases struck on Wednesday is about 1,000 miles. The challenge for Iran is that other countries have ballistic missiles that could inflict a heavy toll on the Islamic Republic.
Here are some of the ballistic missiles, defined as a means to rapidly and accurately deliver a lethal payload to a target, that Iran can use via Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance:
|Model||Propellant||Warhead type||Deployment||Range k/m|
|Fadjr-5 Aero||Solid||High explosive/Chemical||Road mobile||75|
|CSS-8 (M-7)||Solid/Liquid||Conventional||Road mobile||150|
|Fateh-110||Solid||High Explosive/WMD Capable||Road mobile||200-300|
|Fateh-313||Solid||High Explosive/WMD Capable||Road mobile||500|
|Shahab-1 (Scud B)||Liquid||Cluster||Road mobile||300|
|Shahab-2 (Scud C)||Liquid||Conventional||Road Mobile||500|
|Zulfigar/Korramshahr||Solid||High Explosive/Nuclear capable||Road Mobile||700|
|Shahab-3||Liquid||High Explosive/Nuclear capable||Sio/Road Mobile||1,000-1300|
|Emad||Unknown||Conventional/Nuclear capable||Road mobile||1,700|
|Source: Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance|
MDAA says lethal payloads attached to the missiles can include “conventional explosives, biological, chemical or nuclear warheads.”
Iran see its missile force as “an integral and indispensable part of their national defense strategy, fulfilling key strike roles traditionally taken by manned aircraft, but beyond the capabilities of an Iranian air force hobbled by many years of sanctions,” according to a research report by the Brookings Institution written by Robert Einhorn and Vann H. Van Diepen in March.
Check out the graphic of some of the missiles via the Brookings Institution below:
In the U.S., President Donald Trump offered a uniquely placid response to the attacks via Twitter: “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”
The president is expected to host a news conference in the morning to discuss the missile strike and the U.S.’s next move.
However, financial markets may remain on edge, with futures for the Dow Jones Industrial
the S&P 500 index
and the Nasdaq-100
all trading firmly lower on Tuesday in after-hours trade. Meanwhile, gold
was headed deeper toward its highest level since 2013 at $1,593.60 an ounce in electronic trade.