The arrest on Thursday of five Spanish businessmen and three Iranians allegedly planning to smuggle into Iran military helicopters formerly owned by Israel sparks concerns over the possible use of nuclear-armed cruise missiles by Tehran's Islamist regime.
Some nine U.S.-manufactured Bell 212 helicopters were seized in Madrid and Barcelona, according to Spain's interior ministry. The sale of such vehicles to Iran violates the United Nations' arms embargo against Tehran, whose nuclear program is believed to be geared toward producing atomic bombs.
Five years ago, Iran successfully test-fired in the Persian Gulf its "Noor" long-range cruise missile, based on China's C-802 anti-ship cruise design. The launch platform utilized in the April 2006 test was believed to be a Russian Mil-17 helicopter.
|Noor Missile (AP)
The Noor has a range of 200 kilometers, reportedly with no need of an over-the-horizon targeting system. Its velocity is twice the speed of sound, it travels just a few yards above water, and it is close to undetectable by radar. The Noor's single-shot kill probability has been estimated at nearly 98 percent.
Israel's Delilah cruise missile, with a range of 250 kilometers and which can be fitted with a variety of warheads, can similarly be launched from Israel's U.S.-made Sikorsky helicopters.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel had used the Bell-212 military transports until the 1990s when it purchased Sikorskys as replacements.
Hezbollah guerrillas in 2006 attacked an Israeli military ship with Iranian-made Noor missiles fired from the Lebanese shore. The terrorist group is believed to possess dozens of Noor cruise missiles.
The use of nuclear devices by an Islamist terrorist group is one of the chief fears of Iran, a terrorist client state, becoming a nuclear power.
A year ago it was revealed in an Israeli multinational ballistic missile defense conference that Tehran had improved a Ukrainian-supplied Russian KH-55 nuclear-capable cruise missile, about a dozen of which Iran apparently covertly received between 1999 and 2001.
As Al-Jazeera reported last year, "This means that Iran has had approximately 10 years to reverse engineer and improve upon" the KH-55.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi about a year ago announced production of the new highly-accurate, radar-evading Nasr-1 anti-ship cruise missile. In late 2009, Iran tested its two-stage, solid-propellant, surface-to-surface Sejil-2 missile, with a 1,200-mile range capable of reaching Israel.
The Israeli defense ministry reportedly sold the Bell choppers, after years of Israeli air force use, to a Spanish businessman who intended to sell them for use in fire-fighting within Spain.
When the copters were judged unsuitable for such use, he apparently turned to Iran.
For any country other than Iran, helicopters would be considered to be of little danger. For a regime doggedly pursuing both nuclear capabilities and missile development, however, another model of military helicopter to be used as a missile launch test platform could be the last piece of the puzzle leading to successful atomic aggression.
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