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February 10, 2016 1:14 pm

US Intelligence Threat Assessment: Iran Has Largest Ballistic-Missile Arsenal in the Middle East

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

Iran's Emad ballistic missile. Photo: Wikipedia.

Iran’s Emad ballistic missile. Photo: Wikipedia.

Iran already has the largest ballistic-missile arsenal in the Middle East, Director of National Intelligence Jonathan Klapper told the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday.

Additionally, “Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles — along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies — provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including ICBMs,” Klapper said, in a Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community.

He said the ballistic missiles would be Iran’s likely preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, should the country’s government decide ultimately to build them.

The report came as Iran’s Defense Ministry announced it would test the long-range Emad ballistic missile, which was shown stored away in an underground warehouse by the Revolutionary Guards in the Iranian press last month.

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Despite lifting some of the Iran sanctions, such as Tehran’s ability to access international banking transaction firm SWIFT, the US maintains others, over its ballistic-missile program, which Iran insists is allowed under the parameters of the July nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers. Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, argued that the ballistic missiles, while capable of delivering nuclear weapons, are not designed to do so.

Klapper’s report determined Iran probably viewed the nuclear deal it struck with world powers last July as a means to ease economic pressure, while preserving both some of its nuclear infrastructure and the option to ultimately expand it. He said Iran’s implementation of the nuclear deal would push off its breakout time to a nuclear weapon from just a few months to about a year.

“We continue to assess that Iran’s overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its nuclear energy and technology goals and give it the ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so,” he testified, adding, “We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”

“We also continue to assess that Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue,” he said.

Additionally in the testimony, which covered the wide array of challenges facing US intelligence agencies, Klapper noted that Iranian intelligence still saw the US as its primary threat. He said that Iran’s regional expansion and the spread of Shiite Islam, as well as Tehran’s partnership with Moscow, especially in Syria, were security concerns to Turkey, a US ally and NATO member.

He said its “intent” in the Middle East was “to thwart US, Saudi, and Israeli influence, bolster its allies, and fight ISIL’s expansion.” Iran’s allies include Syrian President Bashar Assad and proxies, such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias.

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