Forget the Ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad, apparently Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, ‘Nuclear Warlords,’ have their finger on the nuclear button.
The powers-that-be have consequently lost control of key elements of Iran’s WMD programs. A striking example is the 1,400-mile range Sajjil-2 ballistic missile, which was test-fired at the end of 2008 and scheduled for deployment in 2012.
Indications that Iran’s nuclear and missile programs have broken away from the organized chain of authority in Tehran and are running on an independent track – or tracks – are reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources. Even the powerful supreme leaderAyatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appear to have been left standing, only with decisions on side-issues with little effect on the main course of the two programs.
So who is in charge? The two programs have always been the responsibility of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, so the short answer would be: the IRGC commander Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari. And so it was in early 2010. Five months later, matters are more complicated.
Iran’s nuclear weapon and missile programs have become the new primary power bases. As such, they are platforms for political and military elite members jockeying for prominence. Some department heads are therefore engaged in fierce turf wars and secretly racing each other for first results.
Jumping the gun (or nuclear warhead) on Tehran
However, the Revolutionary Guards team responsible for this project has jumped the gun with a scientific-engineering crash program to have its nuclear warhead finished six months before Sajjil-2 becomes operational – even through nothing has been decided in Tehran about making this missile the backbone of Iran’s nuclear-capable missile arsenal.
Similarly, a shroud of secrecy cloaked the dozen KH-55 nuclear-capable cruise missiles which Tehran managed to acquire in 2006 on the black market in Ukraine.
Conflicting rumors were finally dispelled this week by Israel Aerospace Industries chairman Yair Shamir, who revealed that Israeli intelligence, closely watching Iran’s efforts to develop and produce a long-range cruise missile, had found the mystery KH-55 in Iranian hands. He described it as capable of flying under the radar of most regional states and changing the balance of power in the Middle East.
Iran, said the aerospace expert, sought to extend the range of the missile beyond 2,500 kilometers and was also developing an air-launched version. The pace of Iran’s missile development is much faster than those of solutions, Shamir said. “The new element is that Iran is already in space.”
Since the KH-55 is a cruise missile capable of carrying a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead – and since Iran acquired it along with technical blueprints for the missile and its nuclear warhead – any further Iranian development of a nuclear missile would seem on the face of it to be superfluous. But Shamir brought out four new facts which he said posed an “extremely serious danger.”
Nuclear-capable missiles roll out ahead of bombs
Those facts indicate that the key nuclear and missile programs have been taken over by IRGC cliques whose leaders DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources dub “nuclear warlords.”
1. Iran is using the KH-55 technology to develop a new cruise missile to be installed on their ageing US-made F-14A Tomcat bombers, French F-1 Mirages, or Russian-made Sukhoi, Su-25 warplanes. Such ordnance would enable an Iranian air force jet to hit any target in the Middle East or East and West Europe – without leaving its own airspace.
Therefore, the assessment the International Institute for Strategic Studies published on Monday, May 10, describing Iran’s missile program as expanding in tandem with its drive to acquire an atomic capability, was inaccurate. In fact, the Iranians have put the cart before the horse, managing to develop a missile with nuclear capabilities without first having developed an atomic weapon.
2. The Iranian missile program has splintered several ways: One team is working on the Sajjil-2 missile, another is developing a new nuclear cruise missile based on the KH-55, while, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, a third team is trying to bring up to scratch the Kavoshgar 3, the very missile referred to by Yair Shamir when he said, “Iran is already in space.”
3. The same sort of competitive fragmentation besets Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production facilities. At least two core research teams and several subsidiaries are working against each other to see which reaches the finishing-line first to become the resource used for assembling Iran’s first nuclear weapon.
IRGC “nuclear warlords” and their cliques take over
The work is overseen by IRGC generals, each of whom heads one of the rival projects. Each too leads a clique within the Revolutionary Guards Corps, followers who hope to climb to status and power in the community on the coattails of their successful team leader.
Their funding comes from outside the IRGC’s official budget, obtained by their team leaders’ individual efforts. This practice keeps central government in Tehran at sea on the amounts spent by Project A or Project B of the nuclear and missile programs and explains why Iran’s diplomatic efforts lag behind progress.
It would also make it extremely hard for any sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards the Obama administration may seek to be effectively applied to these surreptitious development projects.
4. Any arrangement negotiated by the five big powers and Germany for the export of enriched uranium is neither here nor there. Tehran may or may not agree to transfer 1,200 kilograms of low-grade enriched uranium to another country for further enrichment to 19.5 percent (to ensure it is not upgraded to weapons-grade fuel). But any such deal has been overtaken by Iranian progress well beyond the point where it will make a difference or affect Tehran’s choice between enriched uranium and plutonium as the preferred fuel for its first nuclear bomb.
5. The same is true of Tehran’s options for crossing the nuclear threshold. The outcome of the contests among the rival Revolutionary Guards cliques in control will increasingly determine the fate of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.