London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iranian websites close to the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have run special feature reports and interviews relating to Iran’s capability to “attack and destroy” Israel using ballistic missiles, the semi-state-run Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported on Saturday.
A special feature report published by Fars on three missiles—named Israel-hitter—stated the missiles could be launched quickly from Iranian territory to reach targets in Israel, and explained the extensive infrastructure that has been built underground to house them.
A Tehran-based analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that publishing such “provocative” reports just two weeks before the November 24 deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement with Western powers on Iran’s nuclear program was an intentional move by more conservative elements in the Iranian leadership, and designed to derail President’s Hassan Rouhani’s reconciliatory foreign policy approach to close the nuclear dossier.
More conservative elements within the Iranian political establishment are under immense pressure to accept the framework of extending the current nuclear interim deal, which would see some sanctions on Iran remaining and the Islamic Republic observing ongoing restrictions on its uranium enrichment program.
One of the main reasons for the current stalemate in negotiations between Iran, the US and the EU over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program relate to grave concerns the Western powers have regarding Iran’s posing an “existential threat” to Israel should it develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.
The rhetoric coming out of Tehran in recent years—most notably, the controversial comments made by Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, in which he reportedly said Israel “should be wiped from the face of the earth”—have caused concern in the international community and given the Israeli leadership grounds for pushing for an entire dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Both the West and Israel fear Iran’s ballistic and nuclear capabilities could be used in tandem to later produce such weapons. Iran’s new government has, however, distanced itself from Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric against Israel and reiterated many times that it is banned from producing nuclear bombs, not only due to its international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also due to religiously binding fatwas issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prohibiting the production of such weapons.
Observers say the publication of the information regarding the missiles, and the anti-Israel rhetoric, are moves designed to divert attention from Iran’s nuclear program, which currently is and in future proposed to fall under the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
These observers believe the information is designed to carry a message that any conceivable threat from Iran against Israel will come via conventional and ballistic missiles, and not necessarily as a result of the nuclear program, which is under the stringent scrutiny of the IAEA.
In a recent interview, Ali Abkar Velayati, special adviser on foreign policy to Khamenei, reiterated comments from Khaled Mishal, the leader of the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, that “Iran has been providing the Palestinian fighters with [everything from] bullets to missiles to [aid in their] fight with Israel.”
Velayati, who is generally known as a moderate conservative politician, said Iran’s current support for Shi’ite communities across the Arab world would not have been possible without the ballistic détente Iran had managed to secure.
Moshen Reza’i, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guard and current secretary of the Expediency Council, said recently it was Iran’s ballistic capabilities that had caused the P5+1—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—“to retreat from their previous policies against Iran” and begin making conciliations.
In another example of the conservative rhetoric being stepped up from Tehran, Yahya Rahim Safavi, another former Revolutionary Guard commander—and a current military adviser to Khamenei—described Khamenei in comments on Saturday as the “commander of Islamic lands,” with the aim of resisting and fighting the US and Israel.