Sunday, November 12, 2006

The government of Iran is continuing its in-your-face policy. Going beyond North Korea’s launch of seven ballistic missiles on the Fourth of July, Iran in early November began a war game by launching at least 15 ballistic missiles, including the Shahab-3 that can reach Israel and U.S. bases in the area. No matter who chairs the defense committees in Congress, this threat must be faced.

Iran displayed its capability by simultaneously launching six missiles of various types and ranges, and then firing “tens of missiles” more. They included the 300-mile range Shahab-2, based on North Korea’s Scud C, and the 800-mile range Shahab-3, a version of North Korea’s Nodong. Iranian generals said these were followed by the launch of hundreds of shorter-range rockets and missiles with ranges of 100 miles and up.

An Iranian commander said on Tehran television that some carried cluster warheads, which spread “hundreds of small bombs over the target at different ranges.” Cluster bombs, he said, are effective for attacking large deployments, air bases and even ships at sea. Rockets were launched in the Persian Gulf as a challenge to the allied naval force there that had just completed an exercise of the Proliferation Security Initiative.

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards praised the successful launch of the Shahab-3, which he said has just undergone a series of improvements. Known as the Shahab-3ER, the improved model is said to go 1,240 miles, which holds at risk most U.S. bases and allies in the Middle East. And Iran is developing a solid-fuel multistage missile it calls a satellite launch vehicle, probably derived from North Korea’s Taepodong. It is expected to reach well into Europe and with booster rockets could cross the Atlantic.

As Iran continues doggedly developing nuclear weapons while extending the range of missiles to deliver them, the apocalyptic regime appears increasingly dangerous to Israel, U.S. bases in Iraq, and our allies in Europe and around the Persian Gulf. The Europeans have been patiently but unsuccessfully negotiating with Iran for years, trying to constrain its covert program to develop an atomic bomb. It is reminiscent of the decade of fruitless talks with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

To be sure, diplomatic efforts to isolate and sanction Iran should continue, but opposition by Russia and China, both eager to trade with Iran, and Tehran’s lack of cooperation, suggest they will be fruitless unless there is a change of regime. Meanwhile, defenses are needed against the growing threat.

Just as the missile launches from North Korea showed the importance of the defenses in Alaska and California, the multiple missile launches by Iran show the need for defenses against such weapons in the Middle East. Eastern Europe is the best location for a missile defense site to protect the Eastern United States and our allies and bases in Europe. Negotiations are under way with the Polish and Czech governments. The plan is to build an early warning radar and missile defense site like the one in Alaska, but with 10 interceptors instead of 40.

Many congressional Democrats joined Republicans this year in approving $9.4 billion for missile defense in 2007, fully funding the administration’s request. At the same time, Congress emphasized the importance of fielding currently available technology while deferring spending on futuristic research and development. This bipartisan congressional consensus recognizes the need shown by the North Korean and Iranian missile tests to have defenses in the field.

With unpredictable adversaries in Northeast Asia and the Middle East, and the risk a pro-Taliban government could take power in Pakistan and gain control of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, this year’s consensus in Congress on missile defense is welcome. If any issue should be above partisan politics it is defending the country against a possible nuclear attack.

The new Democratic leadership should be wary of the calls for unlimited testing before deploying defenses. That is a risky formula for delay. The safety of Americans requires early expansion and improvement of the missile defenses in Alaska and creation of a base in Europe to defend against the missile threat emerging in the Middle East.

James T, Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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