- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2019

Iran rolled out what officials there described as long-range, surface-to-air missile defense system Thursday — a homegrown platform the Islamic Republic claims to have built since international sanctions blocked it from purchasing a similar system from Russia.

Tehran claims missiles within the “Bavar-373” system can reach roughly 17 miles of altitude and have a range of about 125 miles, with state media reports on Thursday describing the platform as Iran’s version of the Russian S-300 system.

The Iranian Fars News Agency reported that President Hassan Rouhani and others, including Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami participated in the system’s unveiling ceremony, coinciding with the Islamic Republic’s “National Defense Industry Day.”

The system is “better than S-300 and close to S-400,” Mr. Rouhani said in televised remarks after the ceremony, according to Agence France-Presse, which noted that pictures released by his office showed the system mounted on the back of military trucks in Tehran.

There was no immediate response from the Trump administration.

The development comes amid heightened tension between Washington and Tehran and raises questions about the extent to which Iranian authorities may have evaded longstanding U.N. resolutions aimed at blocking their ability to procure certain advanced weapons technology.

Reuters noted that western military analysts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its long-range ballistic missile program contributed to Washington last year leaving the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to rein in its nuclear ambitions in exchange for other world powers easing economic sanctions.

Trump administration officials have said a subsequent “maximum pressure” campaign of U.S. sanctions and oil embargo on Iran are aimed at drawing the Islamic Republic into a new negotiation that would address not only its nuclear and missile programs but also its backing of militant foreign proxies.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo focused remarks at the U.N. Security Council on Iran on Tuesday, suggesting the administration’s view is that Tehran represents as urgent a threat as any extremist group.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies continue to foment terror and unrest in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, with devastating humanitarian consequences,” Mr. Pompeo said in prepared remarks circulated by the State Department.

The secretary of state also warned that under the Iran nuclear deal, a U.N. arms embargo on Iran was due to expire in October 2020.

Part of the Trump administration’s current policy has involved increasing U.S. military assets in and around the Persian Gulf. The increase has drawn criticism from some analysts, who claim it has set the stage for potential clashes with Iran.

U.S. officials have accused the Islamic Republic of several recent bombings of commercial oil tankers in the Gulf, and of shooting down a U.S. military Global Hawk surveillance drone with a surface-to-air missile in June.

Thursday’s missile defense system unveiling came a day after several Middle East experts in Washington weighed in on the Trump administration’s policy, with some criticizing and others defending the White House’s actions.

“The maximum pressure campaign is working despite Iran’s provocations,” Michael Pregent, a former U.S. intelligence officer and senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, said Wednesday at a panel discussion hosted by the institute.

“We have put in a defensive capability in the Middle East to absorb these attacks,” said Mr. Pregent. “This is what war with Iran looks like. Everybody’s caught up in this narrative that war with Iran is an invasion of Iran with 100,000 American troops. That’s not what war with Iran looks like.”

“As an international body we can literally absorb these attacks and continue to put sanctions on,” he added. “[Iran] cannot do a lot.”

Some sharply disagreed.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank who participated in Wednesday’s panel discussion, asserted that the administration’s is making moves in “the absence of a coherent strategy.”

“If we are in fact at war, we should tell our congress and the American people about it. They need to have a voice in that and the authorizations for the use of force,” Mr. Katulis said. “Inside the Trump team, I see a lot of division from the top on down. It was easy to get everybody on board to impose costs on Iran, to impose maximum pressure. [But] I don’t see any glimmer of a strategy of what’s next.

“I think we’re actually in a weaker position,” he said. “We’re more isolated in the world. We have some of our closest allies not backing us and we have this thin veneer of Trump rhetoric plus some troop movements that could get us into some sticky situations.”

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