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Does Iran have the advanced missile capabilities it boasts of?

  • Alican Tekingunduz
  • 13 Feb 2019

Iran has a wide variety of ballistic missile rockets and the Shia-majority country is using them as a trump card against hostile countries such as Israel and the US.

Iranian-made Emad missile is displayed during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, February 11, 2016. ( Reuters )

Tens of thousands of Iranians gathered in Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) square on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution.

President Hassan Rouhani spoke to a large crowd and touched upon Iran’s determination to expand its military power and ballistic missile program despite facing increasing pressure and hostility from the US and other regional foes.

“We have not asked and will not ask for permission to develop different types of ... missiles and will continue our path and our military power,” Rouhani said.

Tehran recently carried out a ballistic missile test and is working towards developing its military technology in light of growing animosity with the US and Israel.

Iranian and Israeli officials have been exchanging barbs and boasting about deploying military technology if the two sides clashed.

Speaking to TRT World,  Hakki Uygur, Director of the Center for Iranian Studies in Ankara, said that although Rouhani makes certain claims about Iran's capabilities it is hard to determine whether it is all true or mere rhetoric.

Since the 1990s, Iran has been developing its missile technology sector, making major investments and frequently announcing new missile tests, said Uygur.

The country has significantly increased its long-range missile arsenal under its space-launch programme. Its homemade missiles have improved both quantitatively and qualitatively along with elements like accuracy and lethality.

"Recently they had two space rocket launches and both these attempts were unsuccessful but for them to reach this point means that they have made serious improvements in this field," Uygur said.

"Iran has the most advanced missile system infrastructure in the region that is without a doubt, but are they as advanced as Rouhani claims? We can't confirm that," said Uygur. 

Ibrahim al Marashi, Associate Professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos, told TRT World that Iran does have missiles, but raised questions over their maximum range."The missiles are tested within Iranian territory, and so whether they could hit targets in Israel is a matter of conjecture,” Marashi said.

According to the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) think tank, Iran has become the main base for supplying missiles and rockets to its proxies such as Hezbollah, the Assad regime in Syria and the Houthi groups in Yemen in recent years.

"Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, with thousands of short and medium range ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking as far as Israel and southeast Europe,” the report reads.

Although Israel has its Iron Dome missile defence system for protection, Uygur says any defence system in the world, wherever it may be, can only intercept and shoot down so many threats.

"If you were to send a lot of missiles it would be impossible to intercept every last one," Uygur said.

"If there is a serious confrontation between Hamas and Israel, I do not think the Israeli air defence system can stop everything that can be thrown at it," Uygur added.

Marashi agreed, saying that despite the Iron Dome intercepting enemy missiles before “there is always chances that these systems could also miss a target”.

Iran has a range variety of ballistic missiles that can hit targets from 300 to 2,500 kilometres away.

Photo shows test launch of an Iranian precision-guided ballistic missile at an undisclosed location October 11, 2015.(Reuters Archive)

Iran first used Russian-built Scud-B short-range missiles during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.

Between 1987 and 1992, Iran developed the indigenous Shabab-1, which has a range between 285 and 330 kilometres, with technical assistance and materials supplied by North Korea. Iran effectively used the Shabab-1 missile at Mujahedin-e Khalg (MEK) camps in Iraq. It has also developed Shabab-2 to increase its range to 500 kilometres and fully added to its inventory in 2004.

Shabab-3 was considered the first Iranian medium range of missile that has a capacity to hit targets from 800 to 1,200 kilometres.

Iran has lengthened its missile range to 2,500 kilometres in years thanks to technical coordination with North Korea and by imitating Chinese and Russian missile technologies over time.

Hezbollah and the Houthis used some short-range missiles and they have had many similarities with Iran’s missiles, such as the Zelzal and Qiam.

Does Iran have an advanced air defence system?

Despite having a missile programme, Iran lacks missile defence technology, but the Islamic Republic did manage to buy S-300s from Russia which were delivered to Tehran in 2017.

"They put the order in for S-300s in 2007 and it was delivered in 2017, but they are working on a domestically produced air defence system. But as of now, they do not possess a significant system for air defence," Uygur said.

Uygur says Iran's lack of air defence capabilities is evident in Syria, where it backs the regime.

"We can actually see this in Syria, Israel is easily able to conduct operations against Iranian positions," Uygur added.

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