Iran’s Conventional Forces Build Up

Iran is reported to have tested the Shahab 3 ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) during maneuvers code named Great Prophet II. The area of focus of Great Prophet II was the Gulf and Sea of Oman. Heliborne operations were carried out in the Straits of Hormuz and on the islands of the Persian Gulf, which indicate its likely plans for dominating this area from which tankers exiting the Gulf have to invariably pass. Iranian military leaders affirmed their willingness to act in case of any threat to the region or its neighboring countries. The aim of the exercise was to test the, “defense of sensitive centers, strategic bottlenecks and confrontation of possible troubles,” This was the third major exercise during the year after Great Prophet I and Zolfaghar Blow.

A number of other land-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles are also reported to have been fired such as Shahab-2, Zolfaghar-73, Scud B, Fath-110 and Zelzal. The cluster capability of Shahab 2 is said to be 1,400 bomb lets of high destructive power and was fired in the ranges near Qom. The US expressed particular concern over this move by Iran. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reacted strongly to any precipitate action by Iran especially since the Shahab 3 puts all US bases in Middle East within its range. Russia however ruled out a capability with Iran to construct intercontinental ballistic missiles of 5000 km range.

Some automatic cannons and rocket launchers were also tested of 75 kms and 120 kms range respectively. The automatic cannons are said to be the first of its kind as per spokesman Brigadier General Ali Fazli. Armor piercing and helicopter piercing missile system, a rifle with long range sighting up to 7 kms into enemy territory and which could penetrate a bullet resistant vest from a distance of 3 kms was also reported to have been tested. A new anti armor weapon tested is said to have a capability to penetrate armor plates over short distances. The anti helicopter weapon was indicated as portable and highly accurate with four missiles being fired simultaneously.

Iran’s three-fold policy for extension of domination in the Middle East is envisaged as follows:-

(a) Exploit the Shia Diaspora in the region to create instability for its rivals and stability in its own interest. Iraqi support to the Hezbollah needs to be seen in this light. It is also likely to support other Shia Muslim regimes in the area while simultaneously undermining governments in Israel and Lebanon.

(b) Continue with its program of upgrading it conventional military force, which is primarily based at present on missiles, rockets and volunteers. Thus, the conventional military potential is quite limited.

(c) Continue with its program of nuclear fuel enrichment in defiance of widespread outrage over its nuclear policy.

The United States Navy had been holding maneuvers to track suspected ships carrying components of illegal weapons along with the navies of Australia, Bahrain, Britain, France and Italy in the Persian Gulf. Analysts believe that the Iranians are attempting to convey to the Western powers that it is capable of disrupting fuel supply by striking at tankers passing through the Straits of Hormuz which is said to carry over one thirds of the worlds oil supplies. The Iranian drills are also said to be aimed at Israel, indicating the potential of Iranian missiles, which may be greater than that used by the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Trend Analysis. The series of exercises held by Iran during the year along with its display of missile muscle is intended to deter the United States from any precipitate action as in the case of Iraq in 2003. This also provides Iran with a secure umbrella in which to carry out its agenda of nuclear proliferation. The inability of the Israeli operations during the year to neutralize the Hezbollah has bolstered Iranian plans for securing their interests against a possible US or Israeli strike. A post operation consequence analysis would have revealed the likely damage that an Iranian retaliation would cause thereby negating any attempts at a preemptive strike. The fanatical zeal of Iranian cadres is legendary. It is now being supplanted by an asymmetric capability resting in its missiles and rockets. The ingress made in Iraqi polity is another advantage, which Iran can exercise to manipulate the situation to its advantage in the Middle East. (This article is based on information from

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.