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The Iranian missile threat

As Secretary of Defense-designate Robert Gates prepares for his confirmation hearings, he will need to address one of the most serious but underappreciated security threats of the post-September 11 era: the burgeoning threat from Iran's ballistic-missile arsenal, which is growing much more lethal thanks to considerable assistance from North Korea. Today, Iran has ballistic missiles capable of striking U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf and Iraq, where nearly 150,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed. Its missiles can also reach targets in Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and may be able to reach parts of Germany and Italy.

As it becomes apparent that, at least for now, the United States, the Europeans and the international community in general want to avoid confrontation with Iran, the Islamist regime, emboldened, is becoming more aggressive and confrontational. For the past nine days, Iran has been staging military exercises, which may have included test-firing of Shahab missiles capable of targeting U.S. bases in the Gulf. On Sunday, the commander in chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, declared that the Guards had trained thousands of troops for suicide missions in the event that Iran was attacked.

For the record, U.S. officials dismiss such talk as mere "sabre rattling." But the unpleasant reality is that in addition to working to develop nuclear weapons, Tehran has forged ahead with its efforts to test and develop the capability to attack targets in the Middle East and Europe with ballistic missiles. One such weapon is the Shahab-3, which in reality is the Iranian version of the Nodong missile that the Islamic republic imported from North Korea. The Shahab-3 is a medium-range ballistic missile with a range of at least 800 miles -- enough to reach Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Eastern Europe and Russia. Other experts believe that the actual range of the Shahab-3 is closer to 1,200 miles. But the Shahab-3 is only part of the puzzle, because Iran also has been working on more lethal weapons.

Several years ago, Iran, in an effort to placate Europeans worried about the Iranians targeting them, announced that the Shahab-3 would be the last version and it would not build a follow-on with a longer range. Subsequently, the Iranians announced a Shahab-4 exists, but that it is just a satellite launcher, not a ballistic missile. But, according to Uzi Rubin, former head of Israel's Arrow anti-missile program, a "satellite launcher" is really a covert intercontinental ballistic missile. All the Iranians have to do, he said in an interview with IranWatch newsletter, "is orbit satellites and make threats against America once in a while. That will be enough to tell the United States that it could be hit by an ICBM."

In January, the German magazine Bild reported that Iran purchased 18 BM-25 land-mobile missiles from North Korea. The BM-25 is a variation of the SS-N-6, a Soviet-made submarine-launched ballistic missile, with a range of up to 1,800 miles. The BM-25, according to Mr. Rubin, "is a nuclear missile...There is no other warhead for this other than a nuclear warhead." The Iranian missile threat is clearly growing.

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