Missile defense central to Iran deal

What we are now seeing in the Iran deal is an acceleration of its missile capability.

A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Iran deal struck by the Obama administration has exposed just how close we are to an ICBM-enabled Iran – and how badly we need a robust missile defense capability as a result.
On Wednesday, July 29, US Secretary of State John Kerry testified that the head of Iran’s terrorist Al-Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military commander and spymaster, would never be free from his travel ban under UN sanctions under the deal Kerry had brokered with Iran.
Of course, Soleimani was already in violation of the UN sanctions’ travel ban in Iraq where he has been training Iraqi Shi’ite militias to fight Islamic State (IS). He is believed to have helped those militias kill more than 500 US soldiers, and has been leading the effort to defend Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Then on Friday, August 7, 2015, Iranian media confirmed that Soleimani was in Russia meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate weapons deals – again, in violation of the UN travel ban.
What was Soleimani talking to Putin about? First, of course, Soleimani and the Russians may have been discussing increased sales of the Scud series (known as Shabaabs in the Iranian arsenal) of surface-to-surface missiles that range up to over 400 km and are a staple of Russian manufacture and Iranian consumption.
Second, it has been long rumored that the Russians would sell Iran the S-300 air defense system. The deal, initiated in 2010, has been long delayed, discouraged by the UN. Perhaps Soleimani’s visit was only symbolic, or perhaps it means the S-300 deal is at last ready to move forward, enabled by a permissive US administration and a compliant UN. When Iran obtains the ability to shoot down aircraft where the US Air Force once dominated the sky, a major component of our strategic deterrent will be weakened. Most critically, the S-300 system would make it more difficult for the US or its allies to take out an Iranian nuclear capability before the mullahs deployed it in anger.
The third and most concerning possibility is that the two could have been discussing the acceleration of Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability.
And maybe Soleimani and Putin discussed all three.
This has everything to do with the state of US missile defense programs as a key element to defense against and deterrence of an Iran that can threaten the region and the West.
Keep in mind that Putin persuaded President Barack Obama to alter America’s European-based missile defense program to assuage Russian concerns that it would offset the Russian’s nuclear deterrent. US officials told their Russian counterparts that Iranian and not Russian missiles were the focus of US missile defense efforts.
A part of this change, called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, set back US capability to defend against Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by 10 years. To which a defender of the Iran deal might reply, “No problem, the deal doesn’t allow Iran to have ICBMs for another 10 years.”
But on July 23, just six days before Kerry’s testimony about Soleimani, former CIA director James Woolsey testified in a Senate Homeland Security committee hearing about the threat of an Iranian nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack, including the so-called “Scud in a Tub” scenario. Such an attack scenario would be attractive to the Iranian regime, Woolsey believes, because it would be non-attributable and less likely to provoke a US counterattack.
What went largely unnoticed was a statement by Senator Kelly Ayotte that should have had major bearing on later questioning of Secretary Kerry about the Iran deal.
Ayotte cited US intelligence estimates indicating that Iran could develop ICBM capability in less than a year: “The intelligence estimates have been that they (Iran) will have ICBM capabilities this year is what we’ve heard so we know that yes, the Scud would be the more primitive form [of delivery] but they are also working on more advanced forms that could deliver these types of weapons and could have the same effect.”
A robust, properly funded and prioritized missile defense strategy that was calculated to be operational before Iran’s ICBM and air defense capability come online could have accomplished what diplomacy is failing to do now: alter Iranian behavior.
The Obama administration’s submissive missile defense posture was clearly envisioned by his campaign before his first election in 2008. Some may remember a short but oft-repeated line from the president’s stump national security statement: “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.
I will slow our development of future combat systems.”
The target of Obama’s campaign rhetoric was likely the airborne laser system, which can detect, target and melt the fuel supply of an ICBM in the early launch phase from a classified distance. Far from being unproven, head of the Missile Defense Agency General Trey Obering testified before congress in 2008 that, “We’ve gotten beyond being able to hit a bullet with a bullet.
We are now able to hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet.”
US missile defense technology is above reproach and underfunded. At a time when the US Congress is being asked to put faith in diplomacy to protect the US, we have proven technologies in hand that can defend us that remain under-utilized.
A serious strategic missile defense program requires what is called a “family- based” or “layered” system.
For instance, a satellite-based interceptor and airborne interceptor can back up a ground-based intercepting missile and a sea-based intercepting missile. The ability to place different systems in different relationships to the threat gives multiple opportunities to detect, target and destroy an ICBM if one system misses the window.
Hostile actors can be dissuaded from investing in capabilities when they know they won’t be able to stand up to our defenses. Iran was encouraged to pursue its ICBM capability by our acquiescence to Russian demands to water down US missile defense.
An intelligence estimate of a given threat, like the one Sen. Ayotte cited, is simply an assessment of a hostile actor’s capability and intent. Iran’s intent – the US’s and Israel’s destruction – does not need to be restated. What we are now seeing in the Iran deal is an acceleration of its missile capability. That acceleration began with the undermining of US missile defense capability and defunding that began in 2008, and has been advanced further by the poor diplomacy represented in this Iran deal. If the Iran deal passes Congress, it will be more important than ever before to jump-start US missile defense to insure it is on par with the increasing capabilities of hostile actors – capabilities the administration has encouraged those hostile actors to develop.
The author is The Center for Security Policy’s Critical Infrastructure Security Project Manager.
For more on the Iran Deal:
The limits of diplomacy: Why ‘better Iran deal’ may not be possible
Congress’s Iran dilemma: Weighing the president’s conflicting messages
My daughter and Iran
Iran’s old-new role in the region
The price President Obama will demand from Israel for increased military aid after the JCPOA