According to the Iranian state news agency IRNA, a senior Defense Ministry official recently said that Iran plans to boost its ballistic and cruise missile capabilities as part of a surge in the countries’ defensive programs. The United States and Europe are currently seeking to craft a new deal with the Middle Eastern power regarding nuclear weapons development, but senior government officials vow to keep the ballistic missile program saying “it’s not negotiable and not linked to its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.”
In addition to the missiles, the country aims to acquire updated fighters and massive, long-range vessels and submarines with various weapons capabilities. Experts from The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, FDD, have stated international sanctions failed to hamper the development of Iran’s arms industry. The country already has the necessary infrastructure to accomplish its goals but needs to devote more resources to research and development. A job well suited for the tens of thousands of technical and engineering graduates that the country employs.
The implications of Iran’s ballistic missile program extend beyond the countries’ border. Recently reports came out that Tehran had moved ballistic missiles to some of its proxies in Iraq as part of a plan to shore up their defenses and maintain control in the region. Iran denied the report, but seven intelligence officials from three different countries corroborated the story. There is also evidence that Iran is helping some of those proxy groups construct their own weapons.
The report is consistent with Iran’s recent track record. In Yemen, the country equipped Houthi allies with short and medium-range ballistic missiles and provided extensive training on how to use them. The Houthis are responsible for nearly 200 missile strikes in Saudi cities and towns as well as attacks in Yemeni population centers.
Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran has built a formidable military presence in Iraq. It has used its influence to further drive a wedge between different religious sects and exploited anti-American sentiments among Iraqis. Iran’s act is another piece of evidence of its confrontation with the US and poses a threat to US troops in Iraq and Syria, who are within range of any ballistic missile in the hands of Iran’s proxies.
The presence of Iranian-controlled ballistic missiles severely undermines European cooperation with Iran and embarrasses France, Germany, and Britain who have tried to preserve the nuclear agreement despite strong opposition from the US. Mark Dubowitz of FDD is an expert on the situation and has explained in depth why the US administration opposes the existing deal.
As a result, France is trying to broaden the scope of the agreement to include ballistic missiles; French President Emmanuel Macron called for a revisiting of the deal after 2025 to cover the ballistic program and the country's influence in the wider Middle East region.
The missiles’ presence threatens Iraq’s neighbors: Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, who will undoubtedly respond by deploying missile defenses of their own. Major population hubs in these countries are within reach of even short-range missiles. Iran’s new ballistic missile deployment, to militias in Iraq, is a drastic step of aggression in securing power over the country. Regionally, it causes new dangers to Iraq’s neighbors and threatens international peace and security.
Mark Dubowitz states the US and Europe should take notice, as the new weapons also threaten their own troops in the region. Furthermore, Iran’s actions are a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions and should compel the EU to reassess its position.