The US has escalated a clandestine program to sabotage Iranian missiles and rockets as part of an attempt to weaken the Islamic Republic’s military and cause economic damage, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Current and former administration officials told the newspaper that it was difficult to quantify the success of the program. However, in the past two months Iran has on two occasions attempted to launch satellites in failed tests.
The US says that Iran’s plans for sending satellites into orbit demonstrate the country’s defiance of a UN Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
According to the Times, the American program started under the George W. Bush administration, when the US began to integrate faulty parts into Iran’s aerospace supply chains. The program continued under the Obama administration but gradually tailed off in 2017 when it was revived under then-head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.
Under Obama, the program was widened to target not only missiles but also space launchers.
Tehran says it has reined in most of its nuclear program under a landmark 2015 deal with major powers, but it has kept up development of its ballistic missile technology.
Experts told the newspaper that not all of Iran’s aerospace failings could be blamed on US sabotage efforts as missiles are prone to malfunction during tests.
However, the US was able to see the success of the program in one instance when an Iranian-manufactured rocket landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone and failed to detonate. A former senior official said that when the projectile was dismantled, sappers found a malfunctioning part which had been fed into the supply chain by the Americans.
The CIA declined to comment on the program. The government asked the Times to withhold some details on the operation so as not to endanger it.
The US last Thursday vowed to remain “relentless” in pressuring Iran to deter its missile program after the Islamic Republic unveiled a new ballistic weapon days after testing a cruise missile.
Tehran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, insists that it sees the missile program as crucial to its defensive posture, and says its existence is non-negotiable. It has also maintained that it never intended to develop nuclear weapons and therefore its missile development does not violate the agreement.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has presented evidence which he says details Iranian efforts and research programs specifically aimed at producing atomic weapons. In a Mossad operation, Israel last year spirited out a trove of Iranian documentation from Tehran’s pre-deal nuclear weapons archive, which Netanyahu said proved conclusively that Iran is lying when it says it never worked towards a nuclear weapons arsenal.
The Times report comes as Pompeo and Netanyahu were due to meet on Iran at the so-called Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East. The United States and Poland are sponsoring the conference in Warsaw, which they say is aimed at promoting peace and security in the region but appears to be mainly focused on isolating Iran.
Before departing for Poland on Tuesday, Netanyahu told reporters that the focus of the conference will be Iran, an issue he said “unites Israel, the United States, many countries in the world.”