Iran’s Missile Boasts Put Spotlight on Weakness of Global Response

The White House denies that it is ignoring Tehran’s missile program, but one analyst asks what Washington and other powers plan to do after sanctions on the program are lifted in less than six months.

Hossein Zohrevand/Tasnim News Agency via AP
A Fattah missile is unveiled during a ceremony at Tehran, Iran, June 6, 2023. Hossein Zohrevand/Tasnim News Agency via AP

While Tehran’s new Fattah missile is widely perceived as being more hype than hypersonic, its unveiling on Tuesday points to a hole in the global response to the Islamic Republic’s growing missile arsenal. 

In the highly choreographed ceremony, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps presented what it called a hypersonic missile, claiming the weapon is capable of hitting any target in the Mideast. With President Raisi at hand, IRGC bigwigs also boasted that the Fattah — meaning “conqueror” in Persian — can penetrate any missile defense system.

America and three European allies that are parties to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are struggling this week to deal with a new report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Vienna-based agency’s director, Rafael Grossi, told reporters Tuesday that Tehran is uncooperative with inspectors and is yet to answer several IAEA questions. 

“We call upon Iran to de-escalate the situation,” France, Germany, and Britain said in a joint statement Tuesday. They vowed to “continue consultations, alongside international partners, on how best to address Iran’s unabated and dangerous nuclear escalation.” The group, known as the E-3, is yet to tweak a United Nations Security Council resolution that endorsed the JCPOA. 

The 2018 resolution, known as UNSC 2231, has maintained a previous ban on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles. Yet, as part of its “sunsets” that gradually ease Iranian sanctions, the missile ban is due to expire in October 2023, less than six months from now. 

“How are the U.S. and the E-3 planning to deal with that expiration?” the policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, Jason Brodsky, asks while speaking with the Sun.

While all eyes are on the nuclear program, he notes, Tehran’s race to perfect missiles, including those that can deliver nuclear weapons, receives little attention. 

The White House denies that it is ignoring Iran’s missile program. “The Biden administration has been very clear, very concise, and very firm on pushing back against Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, to include the development and improving ballistic program,” the national security council’s spokesman, John Kirby, said Tuesday. 

Indeed, the Department of the Treasury dutifully imposed new sanctions on an “international procurement network supporting Iran’s missile and military program” on Tuesday. Yet, American sanctions are gradually losing power, as other countries interact with the Islamic Republic.

“Countries like India or South Africa don’t respect U.S. sanctions, but they do respect UN-imposed sanctions,” the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, David Albright, tells the Sun.

Meanwhile, Iran is tightening its arms-development relations with Russia, Communist China, and North Korea. Mr. Albright notes that Moscow is “pretty possessive” about its hypersonic missile program. Yet, he adds, it is not out of the question that it may have helped Iran, which is selling drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war. 

Hypersonic missiles may not be as invincible as advertised. While Russia has long boasted of their capabilities in the field, one of its MiG-mounted Kinzhal, which is classified as a hypersonic missile, was destroyed last month by American Patriot batteries deployed in Ukraine.

Yet, as the IRGC unveiled its Fattah Tuesday, the head of its aerospace program, Amir Ali Hajidaze, boasted that “there exists no system that can rival or counter this missile.” Mr. Hajidaze first announced the development of the Fattah last November. On Tuesday he claimed the missile is now ready to be fired.  

The announcement seems to be an attempt to counter increasing Israeli talk about the possibility of countering Iran’s nuclear program militarily. “The need to act in Iran is much closer today than ever before,” a leader of Israel’s opposition party, Benny Gantz, said Tuesday.  

With a range of 1,400 kilometers, or 870 miles, the Fattah can “bypass the most advanced anti-ballistic missile systems of the United States and the Zionist regime, including Israel’s Iron Dome,” Iranian state TV is boasting. 

Yet, 870 miles is just short of the distance to Israel from Iran. Also, Israel’s David’s Sling and Arrow-3 are designed to intercept long-range missiles, not the Iron Dome.  

Regardless, very few useful details can be gleaned from Tuesday’s presentation at Tehran. No missile was actually launched. Instead, most of the show consisted of a video that could be produced by a TikTok noob. 

Observers doubt that Iran has the know-how to develop a true hypersonic missile, which Beijing, Washington, and several other top powers are yet to perfect. Such missiles travel up to 15 times the speed of sound and can change their trajectories to evade detection. Yet, they are very expensive to operate: a salvo of older and cheaper ballistic missiles may be more effective in overwhelming defense systems. 

“This is not to say the Iranian missile program is not threatening, but sometimes IRGC boasts don’t live up to the hype,” Mr. Brodsky says. Regardless, he adds, America and its partners are yet to develop an answer to a growing threat. 

The New York Sun

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