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General says missile launched; general denies missile launched.

The deputy chief of Army headquarters announced Monday that Iran had successfully tested a new missile with superb accuracy, but within hours the defense minister said there had been no such test at all.

The truth was, to say the least, elusive.

Gen. Ali Abdollahi, the deputy chief of Army headquarters, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency as saying the regime had test-fired a ballistic missile two weeks ago with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles). The missile was not named and it wasn't clear if this was supposed to be a new missile or one of Iran's current missiles, like the Shahab-3, which has a published range of 2,000 kilometers.

Gen. Abdollahi went on to say that the missile had an error margin of just eight meters (26 feet), which would be excellent. In fact, it would probably make this ballistic missile the most accurate in the world.

But within just a few hours, Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossain Dehqan rejected what Abdollahi had said. "We haven't recently tested any missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers and an eight-meter margin of error," he said flatly.

It was widely assumed that Iran had tested a missile but Dehqan did not want the test announced for some reason. One possibility was that the negative reactions internationally to recent Iranian missile tests had prompted the government to decide they would not be announced in the future. The last announced test was March 9.

The tests have served as political fodder in the US for Republicans who want to impose more sanctions on Iran. And Britain and France have also been very vocal in criticizing Iranian missile testing.

The US State Department said Monday it could not confirm any Iranian test in the last two weeks. A full-range test of 2,000 kilometers would be necessary to prove the claimed accuracy and would almost certainly be known in real time to US monitors. That suggests that, at best, Iran only fired the missile over a shortened range.

She said any tests would be "inconsistent" with a UN Security Council resolution on Iranian missiles; she did not say a test would violate the resolution.

The claim of missile accuracy of eight meters was not credible. Abdollahi did not say how the accuracy was measured, but the international standard is circular error probable (CEP). A CEP of eight meters would mean that half the missiles fired at a point would land within eight meters and the other half beyond eight meters.

The Iraqi Al-Hussein missile that was fired at Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War had a CEP of some 3,000 meters. The Soviet-made SS-1 Scud B missile, which was the foundation for Iranian missile work, has a 900meter CEP.

More modern Russian and American ballistic missiles are thought to have a CEP of around 100 meters, which is all that is needed when a nuclear warhead is used.

More to the point, the US ceased to use ballistic missiles with non-nuclear warheads decades ago. The primary nonnuclear missile used by the US armed forces is the Tomahawk cruise missile, which as photo footage from the 1991 Persian Gulf War showed, has the accuracy to fly through a window.

Ballistic missiles fly in an arc, like a thrown ball. They go at extremely fast speeds. Cruise missiles are simply unmanned aircraft and fly slowly enough to give pinpoint accuracy; they also can fly very low, hugging the earth, and thus are difficult to shoot down. And they are much cheaper than ballistic missiles.

Ballistic missiles are really only a useful weapon if they are nuclear-tipped--which is why military planners around the world are very suspicious of Iran's constant emphasis on long-range ballistic missiles.
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:May 13, 2016
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