Regardless of intelligence uncertainties and unknowns about Iran's nuclear weapons and missile programs, we know enough now to make a prudent judgment that Iran should be regarded by national security decision makers as a nuclear missile state capable of posing an existential threat to the United States and its allies.
On Jan. 22, The Jerusalem Post
reported that Iran deployed a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) "whose range far exceeds the distance between Iran and Israel, and between Iran and Europe." It was also shown on Israeli television.
Iran's development of an ICBM at this time would be consistent with unclassified U.S. intelligence community reports that in 2013 warned Iran could test an ICBM by 2015.
Iran and others claim the missile is not a military ICBM for delivering nuclear warheads but a peaceful Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) for orbiting satellites.
This is a distinction without a difference.
Iran has a demonstrated capability to orbit satellites weighing over a ton, which means it could also deliver a nuclear warhead against the U.S. or any nation on Earth.
Indeed, Iran has orbited several satellites on south polar trajectories passing over the western hemisphere from south to north, as if practicing to elude U.S. Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radars and National Missile Defenses, which are oriented to detect and intercept threats coming from the north.
Moreover, the altitude of these satellites, if they were carrying a nuclear weapon detonated over the center of the U.S., was in all three cases near optimum for generating an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) field across all 48 contiguous United States. EMP could cause a protracted blackout of the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures.
Iranian military writings describe eliminating the United States with an EMP attack. Rep. Trent Franks in congressional testimony given in December 2014 noted that an official Iranian military document, recently translated by the intelligence community, endorses making a nuclear EMP attack against the United States. The document describes the decisive effects of an EMP attack no fewer than 20 times.
Iran has missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, but does Iran have a nuclear warhead?
Seven years ago, in 2008, Mohammed ElBaradei, then director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within six months. The IAEA nuclear watchdog has repeated this warning every year since.
On Jan. 20, 2014, former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen warned that Iran could build a nuclear weapon in 2-3 weeks. He also acknowledged that this estimate is based only on Iran's known capabilities — not on what Iran may be capable of doing, or may already have done in secret facilities. Iran has underground facilities suspected of being used for nuclear weapons development to which the IAEA has repeatedly been denied access.
Nonetheless, IAEA has discovered Iran has experimented with implosion technology, necessary for making more sophisticated nuclear weapons. IAEA also discovered plans for a nuclear warhead that could fit on Iran's missiles.
We know from our own experience that developing a re-entry vehicle (RV) for a nuclear missile warhead is not all that difficult. The U.S., working from scratch and using the technology of over 50 years ago, in 1955, developed its first RV for the Thor, Jupiter, and Atlas missiles in just a few years.
Nor is it necessary for Iran to test a nuclear weapon in order to develop a missile warhead.
Israel, we know from the defection of Israeli nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu and other sources, developed a sophisticated array of nuclear weapons, including missile warheads, without testing. South Africa, too, before dismantling its nuclear arsenal, deployed nuclear weapons and designed a missile nuclear warhead without testing.
However, Iran and North Korea are strategic allies. Iranian scientists reportedly have participated in North Korea's nuclear tests.
If Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons, it will be the first nation to go through the great trouble and expense of developing an ICBM capability without first having nuclear warheads to make the missile militarily useful. Historically, every other nuclear missile state has always developed nuclear weapons first, before long-range missiles.
The fact of Iran's ICBM capability and their proximity to nuclear weapons necessitates that Iran be regarded as a nuclear missile state — and as a menace to the entire world — right now.
Congress and the president should give high priority to passage of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act and the SHIELD Act, which will protect the national electric grid and other critical infrastructures from EMP attack.
Holes in the National Missile Defense need to be patched, and the U.S. nuclear deterrent modernized.
Regime change ousting Iran's oppressive mullahs through popular revolution should be encouraged. The CIA used to be good at this.
Dr. William R. Graham served as President Reagan's science adviser, administrator of NASA, and chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission. Ambassador Henry F. Cooper was director of the Strategic Defense Initiative and chief U.S. negotiator to the defense and space talks with the USSR. Fritz Ermarth was chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a congressional advisory board, and served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA.
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