A Nour missile is test fired off Iran's first domestically made destroyer, Jamaran, on the southern shores of Iran in the Persian Gulf March 9, 2010.
(photo credit: REUTERS/EBRAHIM NOROOZI/IIPA)
The US accused Iran of launching a new missile on Saturday while Tehran boasted it had developed a “radar evading stealth” warship. The two incidents are linked to increased Iranian activity, including a flight to Beirut that allegedly brought arms for Hezbollah, and Tehran’s claims it has pioneered a new cyber army. It shows that Iran is serious about challenging adversaries on sea, land, in the air and online, in a full court press designed to keep the region on alert for Tehran’s next move.
On Saturday the US State Department accused Tehran of test-firing a new medium range ballistic missile “capable of reaching parts of Europe and anywhere in the Mideast.” The risk of escalation is growing, Washington warned. Brian Hook, Washington’s Iran-threat czar said that Iran “continues to prioritize missile development as a tool of revolution.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in Argentina for the G20 summit with US President Donald Trump, tweeted that the Iranian regime’s test was a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. “Iran’s missile testing and missile proliferation is growing,” he said, adding that the US condemned the test.
While the US was focusing on the missile test, Tehran was watching a warship launch in Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s Press TV claimed that the country had “launched its most advanced military vessel which has radar-evading stealth properties and can sustain voyages lasting five months without resupply.” The Sahand destroyer had been developed by Iran’s “daring and creative” hands and is supposed to be able to project Iran’s influence around the region. It has a flight deck for helicopters, torpedo launchers and surface-to-surface missiles, as well as for air defense. Iran claims the vessel is “twice stronger” than its previous destroyers.
This comes at a time of tensions in the Persian Gulf as Iran wants to show off its military strength. Although Iran’s new destroyer is described as a “stealth” destroyer, it doesn’t look greatly different than the US Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that came into service more than a decade ago. Nevertheless, Iran’s goal is not to challenge its rivals at sea, but merely to pose a threat to them, and to show off its indigenous abilities. For instance, Iran unveiled a new homemade fighter jet dubbed the Kosar earlier this year. The fighter jet was shown to be a copy of a US F-5F and obsolete. But Tehran was making the same point as with its destroyer.
Iran was also accused last week of sending an arms shipment to Beirut. A Fars Air Qeshm 747 left Tehran on Thursday and landed in Beirut. The same aircraft had previously been flagged for its suspicious activity, including an October flight to Beirut.
ACCORDING TO reports in October, the airplane is “considered one of the various pseudo-civilian airlines used for arms smuggling by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” What was on the Thursday November 29 flight is not known, but it appears to be of a suspicious nature.
In addition to Iran’s threat on land, sea and in the air, the IRGC commander of the Basij force gave a speech on Saturday urging young members of the Basij Civic Activist arm to be more active in the war in cyberspace. According to a Fars News report, Brig.-Gen. Gholamhossein Gheybparvar said to the “thousands of revolutionary youths” assembled that there were opportunities in cyberspace. “Why should we give up on this space and leave it in the hands of the Zionists?”
It appears that the Basij is pioneering a kind of “cyber Hezbollah,” which has been revealed in recent reports of growing Iranian attempts to clamp down on online opposition. The decision by the Basij to emphasize a new “cyber” realm and reference Israel is part of the traditional regime rhetoric, but it also reveals the degree to which they take “cyber warfare” seriously.
Taken together, the new destroyer, the medium-range ballistic missile test, the suspicious flight to Beirut and the Basij cyber activism represent Iran’s attempt to show that sanctions are not reducing its ability to innovate and threaten the region. In each case the message from Tehran is that its weapons systems are at the cutting edge of technology and can threaten the US and its allies. It is likely not a coincidence that Hezbollah also released a new video on Friday with images of Israeli targets.
Hezbollah boasted that if there was any attack “you will regret it.” According to The National, the video showed images of Israeli bases in Tel Aviv and Dimona.
The US administration is momentarily distracted by the G20 summit, but Washington’s statements against the ballistic missile test show that there will be increased tension with Tehran. Iran is indicating that it is ready for the next escalation. It increasingly boasts of its role supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen and of other “achievements” throughout the region. It appears to think that the US and its allies are in disarray due to divisions between Trump and European countries and Russia’s successful cultivating of US allies such as Turkey or even Saudi Arabia.
The problem facing Tehran is that none of the technology it showcases has been particularly successful again adversaries who possess similar technology. It has used its missiles against Kurdish opposition groups and ISIS, but in Yemen its missiles have been intercepted. Its new warship likely is not all it appears to be. It remains to be seen if Iran’s new weapons are as threatening as they appear.
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