Israel: Iran’s ballistic missile program must be stopped

Missiles tested Wednesday are designed to carry nuclear warheads, says Jerusalem, ‘raise questions’ about Tehran’s commitment to deal

A long-range Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran on March 9, 2016. (AFP / TASNIM NEWS / Mahmood Hosseini)
A long-range Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran on March 9, 2016. (AFP / TASNIM NEWS / Mahmood Hosseini)

Israel on Wednesday night slammed Iran’s tests of long-range missiles, saying they were a “clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions and raise questions about the Islamic Republic’s commitment to last July’s nuclear deal with six western powers.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said the missiles that were tested could carry a nuclear warhead, and were capable of hitting Israel and much of the Middle East.

“The missile launches over the past few days represent a clear violation of Security Council Resolution 2231, which adopted the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers,” it said. “The decision bars Iran from firing missiles that have the capability to carry a nuclear warhead — which are precisely the missiles they fired.”

That Iran is developing missiles that are suited for nuclear warfare “raises a big question about Iran’s intentions to comply fully with its part of the nuclear deal,” it added.

Israel said Iran was “defying” world powers and urged the international community to act “forcefully and determinedly” to halt Iran’s missile activity.

“Iran’s surface-to-surface missile program must be stopped,” the ministry said.

Iran test-launched two ballistic missiles Wednesday emblazoned with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” in Hebrew, Iranian media reported, in a show of power by the Shiite nation as US Vice President Joe Biden visited Jerusalem.

The launches were the latest in a series of tests in recent days aimed at demonstrating that Iran will push ahead with its ballistic program after scaling back its nuclear program under the deal.

At the United Nations, there is likely to be a debate about whether Iran is still required to abide by the ballistic missile test ban under council resolutions.

One Security Council diplomat said the tests don’t violate the nuclear deal, but “there are obligations on Iran” that stem from the resolution and “they need to abide by those obligations.”

Another diplomat acknowledged, “We’re not mounting an argument that it’s a binding obligation.”

The two diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the tests, said the council still has to consider the reported launches and if verified determine whether it is a violation and if so what action to take.

Iran state TV trumpeted Wednesday’s test as officials boasted that it demonstrated the country’s might against Israel.

Video aired on state TV showed the golden-hued Qadr H missiles being fired from a crevice between brown peaks identified as being in Iran’s eastern Alborz mountain range. The rockets hit targets some 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) away off Iran’s coast into the Sea of Oman, state media and Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols that region, declined to comment on the test.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, was quoted as saying the test was aimed at showing Israel that Iran could hit it. Israel is within 1,100 kilometers (660 miles) of Iranian territory.

“The 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) range of our missiles is to confront the Zionist regime,” Hajizadeh said. “Israel is surrounded by Islamic countries and it will not last long in a war. It will collapse even before being hit by these missiles.”

He stressed that Iran would not fire the missiles in anger or start a war with Israel.

“We will not be the ones who start a war, but we will not be taken by surprise, so we put our facilities somewhere that our enemies cannot destroy them so that we could continue in a long war,” he said.

The Fars news agency reported the Hebrew inscription on the missiles.

Over the past days, Iran has launched a number of missile tests as part of military exercises. On Tuesday, the Revolutionary Guard said the tests included several missiles with ranges between 300 and 2,000 kilometers (185-1,250 miles), including the Shahab 1 and 2, the Qiam, with a range of 800 kilometers, and the Qadr.

A US State Department spokesman on Tuesday said the US was aware of reports of missile launches and, if the reports were true, would take “appropriate responses” at the UN or elsewhere.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and “the secretary did raise his concerns today with Foreign Minister Zarif about these reports,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters. He did not have additional details about the call.

The Qiam and Qadr, each capable of carrying payloads greater than 500 kilograms, fit the UN definition for missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, said Jeremy Bennie, Middle East and Africa editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.

The now-lifted 2010 ban covered missiles with a range of at least 300 kilometers (186 miles) and a payload capacity of at least 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds), under a definition by a UN panel of experts.

The nuclear accord was a victory for Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani over hardliners who sharply opposed reining in the nuclear program. But since the deal was reached, hardliners in the military have made several shows of strength.

In October, Iran successfully test-fired a new guided long-range ballistic surface-to-surface missile.

UN experts said the launch used ballistic missile technology banned by the Security Council. In January, the US imposed new sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the missile program.

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