Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
IRAN’S attempt to solidify its defensive fence by testing ballistic missiles and conducting military exercises alarmed its Gulf neighbours, Israel and United States. The hysterical statement of President Donald Trump and befitting Iranian ruling elite’s response has further aggravated the strategic environment of the region. The continuity of the threatening rhetoric is neither in the interest of the Iranians nor Americans. Nevertheless, the prevalent state of affairs, certainly, is in the interest of Israel in particular and Gulf sheikhdoms in general.
The ballistic missile test of Iran on January 29, 2017, disturbed Trump Administration. With the development of 2000 km range missile, Tehran would be in a position to strike Israel, Gulf sheikhdoms and also American bases in the region. Therefore, Washington declared the missile test as an act of provocation. President Trump tweeted Iran is “playing with fire,” and also announced about the possibility of military action against Iran. Subsequently, on February 3, 2017, Washington imposed new sanctions on Iranian and Chinese companies and personals that are associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program. Consequently, the American and US-based entities would not do business with the blacklisted companies. President Trump warned Tehran “they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!” John Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control claimed: “Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile programme poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the US.” The US Secretary of Defence claimed that Iran is “single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.” These statements reflect the strategic thinking in Washington.
The message is crystal clear that Trump Administration would adopt stringent measures to curb the military build-up of Iran. Perhaps, capping the ballistic missile build of Iran would prevent arms race in the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Moreover, it dismisses the prospects of Iran’s nuclear weapon program revivalism in the near future. Theoretically, speaking long-range and intermediate missiles are only prized, if they are used for delivering weapon of mass destruction. Hence, Iran’s long-range ballistic missiles without nuclear warheads would be having lesser military significance. So, the advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile programme may oblige its Arab neighbours to modernize their military muscles. Tehran’s response to Washington was very calculated. Rhetorically, it is giving a befitting response to Trump Administration. Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated: “No enemy can paralyse the Iranian nation … [Trump] says ‘you should be afraid of me.’ No! The Iranian people will respond to his words on Feb. 10 and will show their stance against such threats.” Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace unit threatened: “If we see the smallest misstep from the enemies, our roaring missiles will fall on their heads.” These statements were good for domestic political consumption. However, they are alarming for neutral security observers. It is because action-reaction in the strategic realm is always destabilizing.
Although Iran fired five Sayyad (Hunter) surface-to-air missiles during military exercises on February 5, 2017, yet acted cautiously in the realm of long-range ballistic missiles tests. It was reported that Tehran suspended its planned missile-testing program after the hysteric reaction of Trump Administration. Tehran removed its “Safir missile” from a launch pad after the threatening statements of President Trump. Iran’s Safir missile program is very significant because, the rockets use the same components as the ones found in an intercontinental ballistic missile. Anything, which makes Iran capable to manufacture intercontinental ballistic missile in the future is obviously unacceptable for the American strategic planners. With medium and long range ballistic missiles Iran can only target United States deployments in Persian/Arabian Gulf and its regional allies. The intercontinental ballistic missile capability provides Iran military option to hit the heartland of the United States.
Presently, Washington is giving an impression that it could “dismantle” the 2015 nuclear deal– officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The dismantling of deal required the consent of European Union, Russia and China. Otherwise, quashing of the deal would be having a very lesser impact. Importantly, the missile test itself does not violate the nuclear deal. Therefore, the other stakeholders of the nuclear deal did not approve the dismantling of the deal.
For instance, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov opined that the UN Resolution concerned with nuclear warheads and Iranians are not pursuing a nuclear programme. Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini clarified that “Iranian ballistic-missile programme was not part” of the 2015 nuclear pact with world powers and hence the tests are not a violation of it.” To conclude, if Trump Administrations coercive tactics failed to intimidate Tehran, a lethal arms race would be unavoidable in the region.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.