The Trump Administration and Iran’s missile tests

Feb 10, 2017

The Trump Administration and Iran's missile tests

Update from AIJAC


Update 02/17 #03

This Update deals with Iran’s test of a ballistic missile last week (actually, there were also reports of an alleged nuclear-capable cruise missile test which received less attention), the Trump Administration’s response including some new sanctions, and the implications of both for the Trump Administration’s overall Iran policy.

We lead with an attempt from former International Atomic Energy Agency Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen to contextualise this test or tests. He notes that missile development is an integral part of a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iranian argument that UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which implemented the 2015 nuclear deal, allows missile development because its language only says Iran is “called on” not to test missiles, must not be allowed to go unanswered. He says the international community must either clarify that such development is definitely forbidden or pass a new resolution explicitly banning it – or else Iran will have delivery vehicles fully ready when the deal allows it to resume its nuclear enrichment in a decade. For Heinonen’s argument about what needs to be done in the wake of this test, CLICK HERE.

Next we feature a piece quoting two Israeli experts on the US Administration’s response to the Iranian test, academic specialist Dr. Emily Landau and leading security analyst Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror. Both agree that the Trump Administration’s response to what Landau describes as a deliberate provocation and test of the US by Iran looks promising. Landau stresses that it is important not to let other criticisms of Trump conceal when the Administration gets it right, while Amidror stresses that the improvement comes because the previous Administration was fearful that any criticism of Iran would cause Iran to walk away from the nuclear deal. For both their views in more detail, CLICK HERE. A further Israeli academic’s view of the Trump Administration response comes from Eyal Zisser. Meanwhile, another academic, Ephraim Kam, argues that one positive sign is that the Trump Administration has returned to warning Iran that “all options are on the table”, language that the Obama Administration initially used, but then discarded after the nuclear deal neared completion.

Finally, American columnist Ben Cohen argues that the provocative Iranian test was to some extent an opportunity – reminding the world, pre-occupied with other crises, of the seriousness of the ongoing Iranian nuclear problem. He notes that the Trump Administration response was heartening because it took notice of the test as a display of Iran’s intentions, while the Obama Administration would likely have played down the issue to protect the nuclear deal. Cohen argues that Iranians should be sitting up and taking notice that the rose-tinted spectacles in Washington are very much off, and that Congress as well as the Administration is making it clear that the US is not prepared to allow Iran to follow the North Korea path and negotiate, delay and cheat its way to nuclear status. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.

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Article 1

Iran’s missile tests reveal weaknesses of UN Security Council Resolution


Olli Heinonen

FDD Policy Brief, 8th February 2017


Iran’s latest missile test on January 29 received a swift response, as warranted. The United Nations Security Council called for an emergency session, and on February 2, the U.S. Treasury imposed new sanctions on persons and entities involved with Tehran’s ballistic missile program. Iran responded equally swiftly. An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander proclaimed that a separate, large-scale military missile exercise underway in Semnan province was intended to “showcase the power of Iran’s revolution and to dismiss the sanctions.” Officials in Iran have vowed to continue testing ballistic missiles and dismissed claims that its program is a cover to develop long-range projectiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The United States and its allies should demand that Tehran uphold its obligation not to conduct tests of nuclear-capable ballistic or cruise missiles.

Contextualizing Iran’s Missile Tests
Nuclear weapons development usually goes hand-in-hand with the development of means of warhead delivery. This was one of the reasons that the 2010 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Iran’s nuclear program banned work on ballistic missiles. More recently, Resolution 2231 – passed in July 2015 to codify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal – calls on Iran not to undertake ballistic missile-related activities until the IAEA reaches the so-called broader conclusion that Tehran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

The IAEA’s investigations into the possible military dimension (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program raised questions about the country’s work on missile re-entry vehicles. According to the IAEA, from 2002 to 2003, Iran carried out studies on the integration of a payload, possibly a nuclear one, into the re-entry vehicle for its Shahab-3 missile. Documentation obtained by the IAEA included information on workshops in Iran on development for such vehicles. Although the IAEA Board closed consideration of the PMD agenda item at its December 2015 board meeting, Iran never fully answered the Agency’s questions.

Weak Language in Resolution 2231
Iran’s testing of ballistic and cruise missiles with wide ranges should raise concerns among America’s European allies. Yet Iran argues that its missile tests are permitted because Resolution 2231 only “call[s] upon” it “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” In the language of the UN, “calling” is weaker than the phrasing of pre-JCPOA resolutions that “decides” that Iran shall not conduct activity “related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The language of Resolution 2231 was largely negotiated between Iran and the U.S., meaning both sides must have an agreed understanding as to the meaning of “designed to be capable.” This definition should be disclosed to clarify the resolution’s scope. The JCPOA is a complex agreement, and its negotiators concluded side agreements to clarify some of the arrangements. Some of the side deals – such as exemptions on certain nuclear material holdings or on the number of hot cells – were made public shortly before the U.S. presidential transition. Others, like those on PMD and Iran’s uranium enrichment research and development, remain under wraps. According to Iranian news reports, unwritten agreements may also have been reached, such as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s assertion of then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s promise that the Iran Sanctions Act would not be extended.

Disclosure of the understandings related to Resolution 2231 is important, especially in light of German reports that on January 29, Iran may have also tested a “Sumar” cruise missile that is considered nuclear-capable. Sumar’s design work was known at the time of the JCPOA negotiations, so it is essential to understand whether this matter was discussed during the talks, and if so, why Resolution 2231 makes no mention of cruise missiles. Alternatively, if there was an undisclosed understanding between Iran and P5+1 over cruise-missile testing, that should also be made public.

The JCPOA puts a temporary lid on Iran’s uranium-enrichment and plutonium programs, but other nuclear developments – testing of more advanced centrifuges, stockpiling of uranium, and enhancing nuclear manufacturing infrastructure – continue apace. Developments on Tehran’s missile program therefore cannot be dealt with in isolation from its nuclear efforts.

If testing of ballistic and cruise missiles is covered by Resolution 2231, those provisions should be implemented and Iran held to account. If the resolution’s provisions do not cover such activities, the Security Council should issue a new resolution explicitly banning them and ensure that there are long-term restrictions in place for the time when Iran is capable of producing fissile material in just a matter of weeks.

This new resolution should be synchronized with additional curbs on Iran’s enrichment capacity and concluded well before an IAEA broader conclusion is reached. Failure to address this problem means that Iran will have delivery vehicles on hand when it is able, in a decade, to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb in merely a few weeks.

Dr. Olli Heinonen is a senior advisor on science and nonproliferation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of its Department of Safeguards.


Article 2

“US finally getting it right on Iran”


Jerusalem Post, 02/06/2017

“This government is not afraid Iran will walk away from the deal, so it has more freedom… this advantage allows it to put pressure on Iran” and to respond to Iranian provocations.
The Trump administration’s strong response to Tehran’s missile test and other provocations related to the nuclear deal over the past week is finally sending the right deterrent message to Iran, two Israeli experts on Iran told The Jerusalem Post.

“The Trump administration responded that this [Iran’s actions] is unacceptable. We will respond. US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn put Iran on notice and then there were sanctions. This is exactly what the US should have been doing from Iran’s first provocation,” Emily Landau, INSS head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program said on Sunday.

It is important for the Trump administration to establish with Iran that “we are not going to play the same game that the Obama administration was. We see what you are doing. We don’t accept it and we will respond. This is important for US deterrence,” she continued.

Last week’s missile test by Iran, she noted, was of a medium-range ballistic missile with an estimated range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers that could reach Western Europe carrying a nuclear payload.

Providing background to the current state of play, Landau emphasized: “It is important to understand that this is a continuation of a dynamic that began almost immediately after the deal was secured back in July 2015. Since then, Iran has been testing the will of the US, the P5+1 and the international community to respond to… its provocations.”

Israeli proliferation expert Dr. Emily Landau: “It is important to understand that this is a continuation of a dynamic that began almost immediately after the deal was secured back in July 2015. Since then, Iran has been testing the will of the US, the P5+1 and the international community…”

She recounted how, in October 2015, Iran tested a precision-guided missile that could carry a nuclear warhead, violating UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed further sanctions and was in effect at the time. She added that Iran carried out additional missile tests, stepped up its military presence in Syria and tries to provide “game-changing weapons” to Hezbollah.

Analyzing the benefits of a strong response, she said: “There is a certain equation between the US and Iran. If Iran provokes and the US does not react, Iran’s deterrent power goes up because it learns it can do these provocations with no consequences. US power goes down because it is so afraid that it will let any provocation go by, even acting as Iran’s advocate so that there is no problem with anything Iran does.”

Landau expressed concern that because Trump is “so controversial in the US public debate, people will be strongly against Trump for whatever the reason… will not be able to differentiate between policies that are criticized in a justified manner and policies that are the correct ones – in this particular case of Iran, it’s the right policy.”

Ya’acov Amidror, former national security adviser and currently a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, voiced messages similar to Landau, but specifically emphasized that Trump’s approach was aimed at helping understand US interests, not specifically those of Israel.

The main takeaway, he said, was that “this government is not afraid Iran will walk away from the deal, so it has more freedom… this advantage allows it to put pressure on Iran” and to respond to Iranian provocations.

Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror: “his government is not afraid Iran will walk away from the deal, so it has more freedom… this advantage allows it to put pressure on Iran”

Criticizing the Obama administration, Amidror said it would not condemn any Iranian provocations as “serious because it was afraid Iran would use that to end the agreement.”

In contrast, the current government “thinks the deal is bad for the US… thinks it must contain Iran… would be happy if Iran violated the agreement… does not worry about the outcome if the agreement ended and it had lots of freedom… and would be happy” if it could blame Tehran for ending the deal.

Questioned about whether he was more satisfied by Trump’s actions from an Israeli perspective, he shot back: “It has nothing to do with being satisfied. It is not connected to Israel. It is connected to an American understanding that these things are not good for the US, including Iranian actions in the Middle East.”

Pressed that some have said the US must not suffice with words but must send an aircraft carrier and other concrete signs of military power to the region as an implied threat, he said sarcastically that he appreciates all those who tell the US government what it should do: “There is a full Pentagon for that – everyone thinks they are an expert.”

Likewise, Landau said Trump had responded not merely with words, but with new sanctions as well. Regarding mixed reports about whether an aircraft carrier would be sent to the region, he said it was best to wait and see because the situation is “mid-episode.”

US reviews of Trump’s Iran response in the US have been mixed with a small group of Republicans calling for even tougher reactions; a wide group of Republicans and Democrats sending similar messages while supporting maintaining the deal; and a small group of Democrats warning Trump not to ruin the deal by antagonizing Iran.


Article 3

At Last, A Real Threat

by Ben Cohen 

JNS.org, Feb. 3, 2017

The launch of an Iranian Emad intermediate-range ballistic missile. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – I will admit that this sounds perverse, but Iran’s recent ballistic missile test was good news in one important sense. Let me explain.

Just more than a fortnight into President Donald Trump’s administration, America and the world have been bombarded with all sorts of crises — to the extent that it feels as if two years of history has been packed into two weeks.

Relations with Mexico are at their lowest ebb in more than a century. The administration continues to exasperate, most likely intentionally, European heads of state with its on again, off again comments about the long-term health of the European Union and NATO. Trump even boasted of yelling at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, leader of the stalwart US ally Australia, over a previous agreement reached with the Obama administration concerning the fate of a handful of refugees.


And then came Iran with its firing of a ballistic missile on January 29, in open defiance of the nuclear deal its signed with the Obama administration and other Western governments, which urges Iran not to develop ballistic missiles until the eighth year of the deal kicks in. That was quickly followed by reports that Iran had test-fired a cruise missile, the Sumar, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and has a potential range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles), meaning that it is well within reach of Israel and the European continent.

If we needed a salutary reminder that some threats should be ranked above others, then the Islamist regime in Tehran provided it. Dismissing American concerns with a cheap swipe at Trump’s “Muslim travel ban” — whatever else it may be, it is not that — Iran deployed Defense Minister Hossein Deghan, who also holds the rank of brigadier-general in the terrorist Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), to present the missile activities as a routine defensive measure.

“We have no other aim but to defend our interests and in this path we will neither seek permission nor allow anyone to interfere,” Deghan declared. Given that this is the very same Deghan who revealed, following a March 2015 test of the very same Sumar cruise missile, that the regime’s goal is to boost the precision and destructive power of these weapons, it is reasonable to conclude that defense of Iran’s interests means having the ability to annihilate Iran’s neighbors.

Away from the fervid rhetoric and intellectually insulting spin on all sides that has accompanied Trump’s first steps into the world of governing, Iran represents a marked contrast when it comes to the clarity of the challenge it poses. By any standard, Iran’s regime stands out as a clear and present threat to the Western world. And even as we agonize over what is to become of that world, we need to recognize that the primary goal is to save it. Israel and the conservative Sunni-Arab states may be first in Iran’s firing line, but only a fool would conclude that they are the last.

In that sense, the Trump administration’s response to the missile test was heartening in one very simple sense: it noticed.

Whereas Obama would have done his utmost to play down its significance, Trump’s advisers accurately portrayed the test as a statement of Iran’s true intentions. If there really is an influential “moderate” wing of the regime, as Obama and John Kerry always insisted was the case, it now faces a different kind of test, political and not military in nature: Will it, or can it, restrain future missile firings? Does it grasp that the Trump Administration’s lack of detail over the method of its coming response actually makes its country less secure, since in theory all options are on the table at a time when escalation could turn out to be very rapid?

If there is a moderate leader in Iran who can turn the tide, then he — trust me on this, it’s invariably a “he” — should act quickly, or else confirm what we’ve known all along. Namely, that the IRGC, whose main purpose is to export the Islamic Revolution, is the real power broker behind Iran’s leaders.

Indeed, if I were that moderate Iranian leader, I would find very little of comfort in what is being said in Washington these days. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), said this week that global banks should be prevented from conducting US dollar transactions with their Iranian counterparts. The ranking Democrat on that committee, New York’s Eliot Engel, asserted that in our dealings with the Iranians, we should “never, never trust them,” adding that designations against human rights abusers and sanctions targeting the IRGC should be stepped up.

Trump himself also indicated that he understands the nature of Iran’s grand strategy, remarking on Twitter that Tehran wields increasing control over neighboring Iraq. All of this supports the conclusion that the rose-tinted spectacles have been removed and that the gloves are off.

The Iranians can glean further clues to the changing atmosphere in Washington in the current discussion of the equally pressing security threat posed by North Korea. Speaking to a Senate committee hearing on North Korea last week, two leading experts, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations, gave a sobering account of what happens when a rogue regime successfully acquires nuclear weapons.

Eberstadt explained that Americans now have to recognize “two highly unpleasant truths” about North Korea. First, that it will never voluntarily give up its nuclear option. Second, that engagement can never produce “a denuclearization of the real existing North Korea.” Added Snyder, “Kim Jong Un has decided, based on lessons from Iraq, Iran and Libya, that North Korea must be too nuclear to fail.”

Iran’s leaders want to be able to make the same determination. After four years of denial of this reality, the American public is again in a position to understand its potency. That is the best place to start.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism(Edition Critic, 2014).



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