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Iranian Resistance: Danger of Iran’s Ballistic Missiles Has Grown Since Attack Last Year

Satellite images demonstrate the tunnels to the north of the site
Satellite images demonstrate the tunnels to the north of the site

The National Council of Resistance of Iran held a press conference on Thursday, March 18, 2021, to discuss new revelations regarding the Iranian regime’s development and use of ballistic missiles. The press conference focused on “two of the most important sites” for those activities, both located in the Western province of Kermanshah.

According to the NCRI, the sites at Konesht Canyon and Panj Pelleh were both used as staging grounds for a ballistic missile attack on January 8, 2020, which targeted U.S. forces stationed at Iraqi military bases. The incident involved at least 15 ballistic missiles, 10 of which struck the Ain al-Asad airbase.

Online Briefing: Information on two major IRGC ballistic missile sites in Western Iran

Tehran acknowledged that the attack was conceived as a reprisal for the January 3 killing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the terrorist Quds Force. Although Iranian state media initially claimed that the strike had killed a number of U.S. servicemen, it was later revealed that in fact, there had been no fatalities.

The incident was arguably a sign of the increased prominence of the IRGC’s ballistic missile stockpiles in the Iranian regime’s foreign policy strategy. Indeed, this was a point that NCRI representatives sought to reinforce with Thursday’s press conference, which traced the development of those stockpiles since the early days of the Iranian regime and especially since 2009 when the IRGC Air Force was re-designated as the IRGC Aerospace Force.

With that change in title for one of its five major divisions, the IRGC seemed to acknowledge the role of missile technology in making up for the Iranian regime’s inability to develop and maintain a modern arsenal of military aircraft. But the regime’s strategic focus on missile development predates that name change by many years. In 2019, the Aerospace Force commander, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, told an Iranian state media outlet, “We have been digging tunnels since 1984 when we first began making missiles.”

The resulting documentary featured footage of massive underground stockpiles of ballistic missiles, which Hajizadeh described as being located in “missile-cities, deep beneath mountains,” the development of which began even before the IRGC began smuggling in components for use in the development of sophisticated weapons. Hajizadeh attempted to portray the stockpiles as a major source of leverage over Western adversaries, saying at one point, “Our enemies are worried because such locations are out of their reach.”

However, this supposed confidence in the imperviousness of “missile cities” was perhaps undermined by the fact that the IRGC had been secretive about them for many years prior to the broadcast of the 2019 documentary. The sudden turn toward boastful transparency may have been motivated by the fact that the existence of far-reaching underground tunnels had already been revealed by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK).

The MEK has long maintained an extensive network inside Iran. This network yielded the findings of Konesht Canyon and Panj Pelleh, which were presented in Thursday’s press conference. The MEK also determined that Brigadier General Hajizadeh had personally taken command over the January 2020 operation targeting American personnel and that he had previously had a direct role in a 2019 attack on Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure.

The earlier incident involved cruise missiles and drones rather than ballistic missiles. Nonetheless, it served as a reminder to Iran’s adversaries about its potential role in providing more sophisticated weaponry to militant groups such as the Houthi in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2016, IRGC commander Hossein Salami publicly boasted that thanks to Iran, “more than 100,000 missiles are ready to fly from Lebanon.”

Independent reports from that time confirmed that some of Iran’s regional proxies had demonstrated significant advancements in the range and precision of their rockets and missiles. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime itself boasted evidence of the same trend.

The NCRI’s representatives were joined in that effort by former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Dr. Walid Phares, Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counterterrorism.

Mr. Terzi talked about Iran’s nuclear deal, JCPOA, and said due to the regime’s ballistic missile program, since the implementation of JCPOA, its spirit was breached by the Iranian regime.

“It is evident that the Iranian regime’s activities during the past five years, since the implementation of JCPOA, have not demonstrated at all that the nuclear agreement has been a successful experience,” Terzi said adding:

“We have to remember that in the preface to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the P5+1 stressed that the signatories’ anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.’ Resolution 2231 of the U.N. Security Council was based on the JCPOA as specifically calling for Iran to refrain from activities related to nuclear-capable missiles. But almost immediately after the implementation of the JCPOA of the adoption and entering into force of the JCPOA, Iran started immediately violating the spirit of that joint program of action.”

Mr. Terzi emphasized that Iran’s missile program is a very dangerous threat to the region and Europe, and this is the issue that must be addressed in any negotiation with Tehran over the nuclear deal. He outlined four points that must be included in any possible new deal with Iran.

“First, zero enrichment and reprocessing in the hands of the Iranian regime…Second, Iran’s behavior must be addressed in any new agreement. The regional issues must be a core component of any new understanding on nonproliferation, both on the side of nuclear or missile proliferation. Third, Iran’s missile program in support of terrorist proxies and partners operating in the Middle East and in a wider sense, also in Europe, because we know that terrorist activity by the Iranian intelligence in Europe is trying to make a major terrorist attack.” Terzi said, adding the fourth and final point:

“And fourth, it is the limited willingness of the international community to hold the regime accountable for all its abuses that must completely change. There must be a big emphasis on the priority that the Iranian threat is addressed, not only to neighbors but also globally. This limited willingness by the international community, and especially by the Europeans, must give ground to a determined political will to be firm and consistent.”

Dr. Phares mentioned the issue of Iran’s ballistic missiles, which has become a major matter even for the “strongest supporters of the Iran deal” and focused on “Iran’s ballistic behavior,”

“In the Middle East, there are four countries where the Iranian regime is operating. These are battlegrounds.” Dr. Phares said adding that these four countries are Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, where Iran directly or through its proxy groups controls those countries. Therefore the issue is “the geopolitics of the whole region.”

“Now, in terms of what should be done by the international community,” asked Dr. Phares, adding: “Number one, the Iran regime behavior should be at the top of the list in international negotiations for a potential new Iran deal, meaning a deal about the security of Iran and the Middle East. And there are two points that are extremely important, which are the deployment of the missiles. Point A, missiles deployments. Now, as it has been covered by the panel, we have seen missiles being fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia and by Iran into Saudi Arabia. We have seen terrorist activities along the shores of the UAE. We’ve seen Iran-backed militias in Iraq firing missiles against the U.S. and coalition forces. We’ve also seen Iran deploying these missiles in Syria, aiming at Israel,”

“We are talking about the Arab neighbors of Iran; I mean, missiles have been fired against Saudi Arabia. Live on T.V., so can we imagine that Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Bahrain and Kuwait and other countries and Oman are not part of this negotiation? They should be part of that negotiation of that round table. Second, obviously, Israel should be part of the renegotiation. If every single day, from the Houthis of Yemen to the Pasdaran of Iran, they scream and chant death to America and death to Israel, it would be the most logical step that Israel will also be part of these negotiations,”

“And the last point, for the first time, I believe the international community should begin engaging with the Iranian opposition. Now, why would the Iranian opposition be engaged? Because we’ve seen live on T.V. as well for at least three months inside Iran, hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens of all ethnic communities and religious backgrounds demonstrating and protesting the behavior of the Iranian regime. There is another Iran inside Iran that we need to engage. That’s exactly what the U.S. policy is trying to do in Yemen. Washington is trying to engage the Houthis and engage the legal government, the legitimate government of Yemen. That’s what we are doing everywhere.”