Iran’s Maritime Militarization: Alleged Ballistic Missile Launch Capabilities

Iran claims to have successfully fired a long-range ballistic missile from a warship; if this is confirmed, Iran’s naval capabilities would have been greatly increased. According to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the missile was launched as part of naval drills and could hit targets up to 1,700 kilometers distant. This move, which coincides with elevated tensions in the area, is interpreted as an indication of Iran’s increasing aggressiveness in military affairs.

With more than 3,000 ballistic missiles, Iran possesses the biggest missile arsenal in the Middle East, and it has been enhancing the weaponry’s accuracy and precision. The recent events highlight how complicated the geopolitical environment is in the area and how difficult it is for the international community to deal with Iran’s military might and objectives.

Strategic goals of Iran’s ballistic missile program

The first strategic goal of Iran’s ballistic missile program is deterrence against prospective military threats from neighbors and other nations. By showcasing its capacity to fire long-range missiles, Iran adds a substantial defensive layer to its military posture and indicates that it is prepared to respond with force. These missiles are also a crucial part of Iran’s military strategy as they provide a way to exert force and influence locally and act as a deterrent to foreign governments. With the use of naval boats, Iran can project force beyond its boundaries militarily, especially in strategically important regions like the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran can avoid international sanctions and reduce its need on foreign sources by investing in domestic missile technology, therefore improving its strategic autonomy. This boosts national pride and Iran’s reputation as a technologically capable nation while showcasing the country’s engineering acumen and displaying its capacity to overcome technical obstacles and sanctions. The missile program also responds to regional threats posed by the U.S. military and opponents like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and others. Iran seeks to offset these dangers and exert political pressure in international discussions, especially with regards to its nuclear program, by retaining its superior missile capabilities. Iran’s ballistic missile program is complex and multidimensional, influenced by political maneuvering, military strategy, technological development, deterrence, and regional power dynamics.

Iran’s naval forces can now reach any target, signaling a transition from defensive to offensive capabilities, according to IRGC commander Hossein Salami. The precise kind of missile employed in the test, however, is still unknown, and no pictures of the purported test have been made public by Iranian media. A simulated ballistic missile assault from central Iran on Israel’s Palmachim airfield, which targeted a vital F-35 fighter aircraft facility, was shown on state television.

Iran is thought to have taken this action in reaction to perceived threats and as a show of its willingness to use equal or more power in retaliation in the event of a naval battle. Concerns over Iran’s military might are heightened by the launch and remarks made by the country’s former Atomic Energy Organizations chief about Iran’s potential for nuclear weapon development.

The U.S.’s cautious attitude, according to critics of the Biden administration, has given Iran more confidence, as seen by the country’s increased missile and drone capabilities and its lack of a robust reaction to attacks on U.S. forces by Iran’s proxies. These opponents contend that despite the administration’s attempts to resurrect the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and to unlock billions of dollars in blocked Iranian transactions, Iran has not become less belligerent.

Strategic Implications

This assertion coincides with heightened hostilities over Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions between Iran and Western nations including the US and Europe. It implies that Iran is keeping up its military build-up and deterrent tactics. The capacity to fire ballistic missiles from naval platforms greatly increases Iran’s ability to project power. Iran has the biggest missile arsenal in the Middle East, although it has always been land-based. Iran diversifies its launch platforms by acquiring a marine launch capability, making it more difficult for its enemies to undertake preventative attacks or missile defense. This might strengthen Iran’s ability to deter by allowing it to threaten targets farther away from its borders—up to 1,700 kilometers—and throughout the region.

Regional Power Dynamics

Gulf states that perceive Iran as a competing force, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, would consider this development to be potentially unstable for the security balance of the area. It can be interpreted by the US as more proof that its “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran is warranted. Iran’s improved missile capabilities have the potential to tip the scales of regional dominance, especially in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, where a large amount of the world’s oil supply passes. Concerns over Iran’s maritime power play, particularly its threats to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, have long existed for both regional security and the world’s oil markets. The potential for Iran to launch ballistic missiles from ships might strengthen its claims to regional hegemony and its power to obstruct maritime trade, increasing the Persian Gulf’s strategic significance in world geopolitics.

Challenges to International Security

International efforts to restrain Iran’s military might are hampered by its missile development, particularly given its nuclear aspirations. This event may be seen by the international community as a serious escalation, especially by the United States and its allies. This might result in an enhanced military presence in the region and heightened tensions. Furthermore, Iran’s activities may set off an arms race in the Middle East, with surrounding nations attempting to bolster their own armed forces in retaliation.

On the other hand, Iran’s display of highly developed military might also open new diplomatic avenues. Given the possibility of escalating hostilities, regional and international countries may be more willing to negotiate solutions to Iran’s missile program as well as other Middle Eastern security issues. This may create opportunities for fresh conversations about the 2015 nuclear agreement and defusing tensions in the area.

The assertion made by Iran that it launched a ballistic missile from a vessel is a noteworthy event with broad geopolitical ramifications. It presents threats to both global security and regional stability, but it also has the power to spark diplomatic dialogue. The way the world reacts to this event will determine whether it sparks further conflict or creates a platform for discussion aimed at maintaining stability and peace in the Middle East.

It is still unclear if Iran can equip its ships appropriately to launch ballistic missiles, and this must be confirmed outside before determining the true capabilities of Iran’s navy. Analyzing this development of Iran’s naval forces would require distinguishing between hyperbole and genuine deployable capability, even though capabilities have the potential to change the paradigm of regional security if they are fulfilled. A longitudinal analysis of the evaluations made by Iranian naval forces to foreign intelligence agencies over time might yield more information.

[Representational image by Hossein Velayati, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Dr. Umud Shokri is an esteemed energy strategist and seasoned senior foreign policy advisor. Holding a Ph.D. in International Relations, he boasts over two decades of knowledge spanning global energy dynamics, climate change, clean energy technologies, energy security, and geopolitics. He is currently serving as a Senior Visiting Fellow at George Mason University. Follow him at @ushukrik. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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