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Iran’s missiles: Dangers and policy recommendations

In a press conference in Washington, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed that on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s orders, Tehran has accelerated its missile activities and tests since the nuclear deal.

Based on detailed intelligence obtained from Iran’s Defense Ministry and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Khamenei has tasked the latter’s Aerospace Force with executing this mandate. The NCRI has been one of the main sources of exposing secret aspects of Iran’s nuclear activities and its weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program.

The latest revelation coincides with rising sensitivity and concern about Tehran’s missile program. The US Senate imposed wide-ranging new sanctions on Iran, partly for continuing and expanding its ballistic-missile program last week. The NCRI verified the locations of 42 centers involved in producing, testing and launching missiles. A dozen of them were revealed for the first time. Of the 42 sites, 15 are part of Tehran’s missile-manufacturing network. 

These 15 centers include several factories related to a missile industry group, and together form a web of dozens of missile-production facilities. The NCRI identified four of Iran’s most important missile centers in Semnan, Lar, Khorramabad and near Karaj. Two of these centers are among the facilities that Tehran describes as missile cities.

The missile center in Semnan has been actively collaborating with the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), which is tasked with building a nuclear bomb. Some of the tests related to the organization are conducted at this site.

The SPND is the engineering unit of Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program. Its existence was first revealed in July 2011 in Washington, and it was put on the sanctions list in 2014. The IRGC’s missile sites were created based on North Korean models and blueprints. North Korean experts helped build the sites.

The country’s ballistic-missile program underscores the need for effective, broad sanctions against the program and all related entities and individuals.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

According to the NCRI, the regime remains in power via internal repression and exporting Islamist fundamentalism and terrorism. Its illicit nuclear-weapons program and continued expansion of ballistic missiles serve this export, which increases in importance as the regime becomes more isolated domestically and its grip on society weakens, the NCRI said.

Khamenei said on May 10: “There is no difference between change of behavior and change of regime.” As such, Iranian leaders are united in investing in the ballistic-missile program because they realize the survival of their regime and political establishment are at stake.

On May 23, President Hassan Rouhani said missile activities will continue unabated. The NCRI said the Iranian people deeply oppose Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs and its regional interference. It referred to a major gathering of Iranians and their supporters in Paris on July 1, where they will declare their opposition to Tehran’s export of Islamist terrorism and fundamentalism, its regional interventions and its nuclear and missile programs.

Iran’s ballistic-missile program underscores the need for effective, broad sanctions against the program and all related entities and individuals; designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization; and expelling the IRGC and its affiliated militias and proxies from the region, particularly from Syria and Iraq.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.