Iran announced on February 7, 1999 that it was testing
a new intermediary range rocket, the Shahab 4, which
reportedly could carry a one-ton payload into space.
The Shahab 4 was reportedly based on Russian-supplied
technology- an enhanced version of the old SS-4.
Since Russia was under pressure from America not to
supply vehicles for weapons of mass destruction to Iran,
Iran claimed that the Shahab 4 was merely a space launch
vehicle. Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani explained:
"Shahab-4 is intended to carry satellites into
orbit and it carries no warhead."
If so, should the US be concerned about the assistance
Russia is providing Iran in developing space launch
There is very little conceptual difference between
a space launch vehicle and a ballistic missile other
than intent. As Robert D. Walpole, the CIA's National
Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs
has pointed out "one is intended to put a payload
into orbit, the other is intended to put a payload into
the ground... So that if Iran develops a space launch
vehicle, it would be capable of delivering payloads
to points on the Earth." The only additional technology
needed would be a reentry vehicle that could enter the
atmosphere from full or partial orbit without burning
Even though the range of the Shahab 4 is presently
limited to about 2000 kilometers (and therefore only
threatens countries in that region, including Israel,
Saudi Arabia and Turkey), it is only a matter of time,
especially with Russian assistance, before Iran adds
additional solid-fuel stages that extend the range to
intercontinental status. In this regard, Walpole testified
to Congress on the time-table of US intelligence analysts.
"Most believe Iran will likely test an IRBM--probably
based on Russian assistance--during this period [2006-2010],"
he said "All assess that Iran could test an ICBM
that could deliver nuclear weapon-sized payloads to
many parts of the United States in the latter half of
the next decade, using Russian technology obtained over
Since nations do not build intermediary range missile
simply to deliver conventional explosives, it can be
assumed Iran is developing nuclear warheads for its
Shahab missiles. According to a top Russian official
in a position to know, Iran already has small nuclear
weapons in its arsenal. In June 2002, General Yuri Baluyevsky,
the Russian Deputy Chief of Staff, said at a press conference:
"Iran does have nuclear weapons. These are non-strategic
nuclear weapons. I mean these are not ICBMs with a range
of more than 5,500 kilometers."
Presumably, Iran has the capability to fashion larger
nuclear weapons. Its nuclear energy program that was
begun by the Shah in the late nineteen-sixties has been
greatly enhanced by Russia. At present, Russia is building
six nuclear reactors for Iran, four at Bushehr and two
at Akhvaz, as well as a conversion plant that can be
used for, among other things, uranium enrichment. (In
theory, Russia will control the spent fuel, but, as
North Korea has demonstrated, such international controls
are not necessarily fool proof. ) So, either internally
or externally, Iran may be able to obtain the fuel for
Iran has also obtained shorter-range Nodong engines
for its missiles from North Korea. But Russia has provided
Iran with the components, testing and expertise to develop
much more sophisticated and longer-range missiles.
Is Russia's motive purely financial or does it have
a strategic interest in providing Iran with assistance
for "satellite launch vehicles?"