NATO IDF 248.88.
(photo credit: IDF [file])
NATO's interest in Iran has dramatically increased in recent months as the Islamic Republic works to upgrade its ballistic missiles and increase their range so they can penetrate deep into Europe, according to officials at the Western military alliance.
While the interest has not taken on a practical form, except in NATO and the United States's plan to deploy a missile defense shield in Europe, Israeli defense officials said that the military alliance no longer viewed Iran as taboo.
"NATO talks about Iran and they way it affects force structure and building," explained one senior Israeli official. "This doesn't mean that NATO is interested in a conflict with Iran, especially with the difficult war in Afghanistan, but it is preparing for all possibilities."
A NATO official said that the alliance was committed to the missile defense shield, particularly to protect areas where NATO forces were deployed. The official said that the original plan formulated by the Bush administration and under which missile launchers were to be deployed in Poland and a sophisticated radar station in the Czech Republic, was currently under review by the Obama administration.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that due to Russian opposition the administration is considering alternative deployment in Turkey and the Balkans while at the same time developing land-based versions of the Aegis SM-3 ship-based missile defense system.
The NATO interest in Iran at this stage focuses mostly on intelligence gathered around the world regarding the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. In December 2006, Israeli Military Intelligence hosted the first of its kind international conference on global terrorism and intelligence, after which Israel and NATO established an intelligence-sharing mechanism.
The need for a missile defense shield in Europe was in order to protect members of the alliance from the growing Iranian missile threat, a NATO official said.
"Iran can now reach Israel but still wants to develop longer ranges," the official said. "We believe that in the foreseeable future, Iran could fire conventional or nuclear-tipped missiles into Europe."
According to a report published earlier this month by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Iran would likely have the ability to fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile by the middle of the next decade.
"The Iranians have the technology right now to produce an intermediate range ballistic missile that can threaten Europe," said the report, which was authored by Uzi Rubin, the former head of the Israeli Homa missile defense agency. "If this is true, then the time to start missile defense in Europe is now. The fact that the Iranians are building that capability is something that should be brought to public view."
The understanding in NATO, the official said, was that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was "since it wants political power."
The Kremlin's objections to the missile shield, the official said, were connected to internal domestic politics and less to concern that the shield would threaten Russia.
"Russian concerns appear in the press before they are told to us," the official said. "We believe that Russia will have security issues with Iran in the future."