Iran’s long aim for its ballistic missiles

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh


By : Dr. Majid Rafizadeh


The Joint Plan of Action Agreement (JCPOA) between six world powers and Iran hints ambiguously at “addressing U.N. Security Council resolutions” regarding Tehran.

However, the JCPOA further states that Iran should not undertake any ballistic missile activity “until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier”.

Nevertheless, Iran has repeatedly test-fired long-range ballistic missiles and laser-guided surface-to-surface missiles. In October and November, just after the nuclear deal was reached, the Islamic Republic tested a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads. This was in breach of two U.N. Security Council resolutions and JCPOA.

Not only did the nuclear deal not temper Iran’s foreign policy, IRGC leaders appear to be more empowered to manifest their military power.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Iranian leaders aren’t reserved about projecting their military power. When his country was unveiling a new missile, Fateh 313, President Hassan Rouhani pointed out that “we will have a new ballistic missile test in the near future that will be a thorn in the eyes of our enemies.” An Iranian state news agency, Fars, also posted a video of Iran’s underground missile testing facility.

But why would Iran need such a diverse ballistic arsenal? Why doesn’t Iran fear breaching UNSC resolutions and JCPOA? How will the international community react and what implications will Iran’s actions have on the nuclear deal?

Ballistic threat to the region

Iran’s ballistic capability is one of the most critical pillars of Tehran’s national security policy. Aside from managing Iran’s nuclear program, and supporting its proxies, the third important program of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is its ballistic missile program.

Surpassing Israel, Iran possesses the largest and most diverse ballistic missile program in the Middle East. No country, other than Iran, has acquired long range ballistic missiles before obtaining nuclear weapons. This makes the IRGC one of the most formidable military institutions in the region. Ballistic missiles can be used for offensive or defensive purposes, but sophisticated missiles are mainly developed as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons.

Tehran’s ballistic missiles can hit any country in the Middle East. But Iranian leaders are not satisfied with this capability and are looking to expand.

Iran’s ballistic technology has grown due to Iran-North Korea ties. But Tehran has gradually relied on its domestic infrastructure as well, and adapted new technology to expand its ballistic arsenal.

Repercussions and P5+1 reaction

Iran’s determination to have the most robust and largest ballistic missile arsenal in the region highlights its ambitions for supremacy through militarization.

By emphasizing the need to fight the “enemies”, IRGC leaders have succeeded at rallying Parliament to secure billions of the government’s revenue to spend on Iran’s ballistic and nuclear program. Iran’s improving military capabilities are increasing support for IRGC and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

If we argue that the Islamic Republic isn’t going to use these ballistic missiles against other nations, Iran’s expanding program and frequent test-fires are intended to create fear in the region. This inevitably leads to further destabilization and militarization of the region. For example, Israel has begun improving its Arrow Missile Defense system in response to Iran’s missile program.

Not only did the nuclear deal not temper Iran’s foreign policy and regional hegemonic ambitions, IRGC leaders appear to be more empowered to manifest their military power.

Despite the efforts of the international community since the 1980s, the Islamic Republic has managed to expand its missile program to be the largest in the region. Iran’s missile range has grown from 500km to over 2000km.

This comes despite the United Nations Security Council resolution 1929 that states: “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities.”

However, Iran’s rapidly improving missile capabilities are less likely to cause a reaction from P5+1. In addition, these breaches of the JCPOA and UNSC resolutions are not going to change P5+1’s decision to lift the ban on Iran’s ballistic program and remove sanctions by early next year. P5+1 is bolstering IRGC’s military prowess and rallying more hard-line support behind IRGC.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @MajidRafizadeh


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.


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