Thursday, July 10, 2008

Great Prophets, hedgehogs and Photoshop

Iran has sent a Great Prophet into battle. In its military exercises dubbed Payambar-e Azam 3 (Great Prophet 3), the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps test-fired on Wednesday, July 9, several missiles, in between the Shahab-3. The missile was equipped with a one-ton conventional warhead.

The tests occurred at a time of increased tension between Iran and Israel over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The Iranian government contributed to the stand-off by stressing that the Shahab-3 is capable of reaching Israel. The Shahab-3 has a range of 2,000 km and parts of western Iran are within 1,050 km of Tel Aviv. One expert said that the general range of the Shahab-3 is 1,300 km. It is possible to extend it to 2,000 km but only in combination with a warhead that is much lighter than one ton. This lead to the comment: "This is typical of Iran to exaggerate the accomplishments of the missiles and its nuclear program."

According to a report by the Iranian television there might have been two Shahabs lifting off within seconds of each other. Historically, there have always been single launches.

The Shahab was not the only missile that was launched on Tuesday. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reports:

Nine highly advanced missiles with improved accuracy were simultaneously tested, including the Zelzal and Fateh missiles with ranges of 400 km and 170 km respectively.
It seems that Iran tried to increase its deterrence potential by making use of state of the art technology: Photoshop! A misleading photo of four missiles being launched at once during the test, instead of the correct three, made its way to the front pages of several major newspapers. The four-missile image was obtained from the website of Sepah News, the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that Iran doctored the photo to cover up what apparently was a misfiring of one of the missiles.

Today, on July 10, a second test launch was carried out during the night hours.

This second test raised some concerns. Wallace Witkowski wrote for the Market Watch:
A senior U.S. military official disputed reports that Iran carried out a second day of new missile tests on Thursday, according to CNN. The unnamed source told CNN the U.S. believes Iran fired seven short- to medium-range missiles on Wednesday, and that a missile that was fired the following day was one that had failed on launch on Wednesday.
This analysis does not provide any information about the deviation in the total number of launched missiles. Seven missiles yesterday and one latecomer today do not sum up to nine.
Meanwhile rumors spread that there will be a third test. There has been no information to substantiate these rumors.

In addition to the demonstration of military might the maneuvers was – naturally – paired with verbal flexing of muscles. Iran blamed the United States’ and Israel’s warmongering behavior and the stressed that the aim of the war games was to demonstrate "just how strong-willed the Islamic Republic is in defending its sovereignty against any challenges”. The first test came one day after a senior Iranian official warned of an immediate retaliation should Israel or the US attack the country.

The New York Times wrote:
Some saw the tests as essentially deterrent in nature. A senior American intelligence official said the missile tests, together with belligerent comments by Iranian officials, seemed part of a strategy to warn Iran’s neighbors of its “capacity to inflict pain.”
According to this official Iran pursues a hedgehog strategy: mess with me and you’ll get stuck.
The United States said on Wednesday Iran should immediately halt development of ballistic missiles and stop conducting tests if it wanted to gain the trust of the world. This would doubtlessly be a wonderful thing to achieve. But this call contains a major flaw: when will the United States learn that it is not possible to set the desired end-result as a precondition for negotiations? We have the same problem in the nuclear field where the ceasing of enrichment activities was made a precondition for talks. But it is the P5+1 who wants to talk to Iran not the other way round.

As long as we can see examples of Photoshop-skills of Iranian officials and strange weight-range combinations of Iranian missile marvels there is still time to calm down, stop the blame-game and start discussing.

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