Once pledging not to boost range of missiles, Iran now says it's 'constantly increasing' range.
But on June 19 of last year, in an obvious effort to calm American and European anger, Pasdar Commander Major General Mohammad-Ali Jafari announced that Iran has no plans to build any missile with a range greater than 2,000 kilometers.
That was contradicted August 5 of this year when Gen. Mahdi Rabbani, the deputy chief of the joint staff of the armed forces for operations, said, "Our missile power deters any regional or extra-regional acts of aggression--and the range of our missiles is also constantly increasing."
Iranian officials have often--but not consistently--said Iran would not build any missiles with a range greater than 2,000 kilometers so as not to frighten Western Europeans. The range of 2,000 kilometers allows Iranian missiles to reach the Balkans (and Israel) but not Western Europe.
Iran has claimed a range for its largest missiles of 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) for almost two decades.
While Rabbani said Iran is "constantly" increasing the range of its missiles, he did not give a maximum range for missiles today.
Last year, Jafari said, "We have the scientific ability to increase our missile range, but it is not our current policy since most of our enemies' strategic targets are within the 2,000-kilometer range. This range is enough to protect the Islamic Republic."
Jafari's remarks had to be taken with a grain of salt since Iranian military officers have switched back and forth over the years between saying what Jafari said and asserting that Iran might build longer-range missiles. But Rabbani said Iran was already building missiles of greater range.
The fact that Iran has been able to put satellites in orbit means it has the technology to build a missile that could reach even the United States.
Jafari's comments last year might have been prompted by a May 23, 2018, report in The New York Times that said the Islamic Republic might already be secretly trying to develop a missile capable of reaching the United States.
The newspaper was careful to say the evidence was not conclusive, but then listed several indicators of work on a much larger missile than Iran has produced to date.
The Times contacted five outside experts who independently reviewed the findings and agreed there was compelling evidence Iran was developing longer-range missile technology. A big problem is that Iran is not consistent in its talk about its missile plans.
In November 2017, Jafari said the Pasdaran might build missiles with a longer range if Europeans don't act nicer.
Yet, just three weeks earlier, on October 31, 2017, Jafari announced that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenehi had decreed that the maximum range of any Iranian missile should be no more than 2,000 kilometers.
That appeared to be an effort to avoid irritating the United States with the periodic talk of Iranian military officers about building missiles with greater range.
But on November 23, 2017, just three weeks later, Jafari said, "If we have kept the range of our missiles to 2,000 kilometers, it's not due to lack of technology....
We are following a strategic doctrine. So far, we have felt that Europe is not a threat, so we have not increased the range of our missiles. But if Europe wants to turn into a threat, we will increase the range of our missiles."
Pointedly, he did not mention the Supreme Leader's order of just three weeks earlier, suggesting the "order" was actually a propaganda announcement rather than a policy announcement.
That left open whether Rabbani's announcement of "constantly increasing" missile range was a statement of policy or just rhetoric intended to show that the Islamic Republic was tough. Such tough-man rhetoric has been a common response to the Donald Trump's tough-man rhetoric.
Jafari's threat to bring Europe within the range of Iranian missiles came after French President Emmanuel Macron called for the world to sit down with Iran to negotiate limits on its missiles. That prompted outrage in Tehran.
In August 2016, then-Defense Minister Hossain Dehqan said there was no limit on the range of Iran's missiles, adding to the confusion of what was Iranian policy.
In June 2017, Bloomberg News said a secret Pentagon report assessed that Iran had only 50 Shahab-3 missiles, with a 2,000-kilometer range, in stock. That is a stunningly low number considering the Shahab-3 has been in service since 2003.
A Shahab-3's maximum payload is assessed at 990 kilograms. By comparison, a single US B-1 bomber can carry a payload of 34,000 kilograms. In other words, two B-1s can carry a third more explosive power than all of Iran's 50 Shahab-3's put together. And the B-1s can return to make repeated bombing runs.