Iran update: number 129


  • Iran fires first of a new generation of solid-fuel missiles
  • Israel calls on incoming US administration to stay tough
  • Turkey offers mediation as P5+1 talks continue into the twilight days of Bush’s Presidency
  • Iran warns US over air space violations, after US raid in Syria
  • Ahmadinejad congratulates Obama for election victory, then endures storm of controversy back home for his conciliatory gesture
  • Iran looking to collaborate with other suppliers as oil and gas prices plummet.

In a show of strength, Iran tested a new Sejil solid-fuel missile on Wednesday. The Iranian Defense Minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, described it as having “extremely high capabilities”, and claimed that the missile has a range of 1200 miles (similar to the Shahab-3) and is, therefore, within striking distance of Israel or even southwestern Europe. Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman reacted by claiming the test justified the construction of a US missile defense system in Europe. The test came a day after media reports of another missile test by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard near the Iran-Iraq border. Building upon his country’s current military demonstrations, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that the Iranian nation would give a “crushing response” to any military attack.

Israel has called on the new US administration to remain firm on Iran’s “extremist and terrorist activities”. In a telephone conversation with US Vice President-elect Joe Biden, the acting Israeli Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, emphasized the need for cooperation against the threat posed by Iran to maintain order in the region. Both Prime Minister Olmert and President Simon Perez urged the US to continue its pressure against Iran’s nuclear program. President-elect Obama stated earlier this year that a nuclear Iran would be a “grave threat” to global security, and has remained committed to opening dialogue with the Iranian government with a view to reaching a diplomatic solution to the problem.

Turkey has offered to mediate between the US and Iran, an offer that has been greeted with cautious support from Tehran. Nicholas Burns will be joining fellow negotiators in Paris on Thursday to discuss next steps by the P5+1.

On November 5, Iran’s army headquarters issued a warning to American military units in Iraq to respect local airspace borders. Iran’s response is reportedly motivated by several recent incidents in which American military helicopters flew along Iran’s border. State radio, reporting on likely responses to such an incident, indicated that “Iran’s armed forces will respond to any violation” of its airspace, no matter how brief its duration. The warning comes after an American-led cross-border incursion from Iraq into Syria in later October. American commandos staged the raid into Syria, ostensibly targeting an al-Qaeda operative, Abu Ghadiyah, who may have been involved in smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq. Iran roundly condemned the incident, in which Syria alleges eight civilians died. President Ahmadinejad denounced the raid as a “blind and savage act,” to which Syria has responded by demanding apologies from Washington and Baghdad, severing diplomatic ties to the latter, and threatening an end to cooperation on cross-border security issues if any further raids occur.

President Ahmadinejad sent his congratulations to President-elect Obama after his victory in the US presidential election on November 4. Obama has said that he intends to reply appropriately, but would use the opportunity to condemn Iran’s “support for terrorist organizations” or any suspected development of nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad himself has endured a torrent of criticism back home for the letter, with claims that he overstepped his authority and that he struck the wrong tone. Iran’s Jomhuri Islami newspaper, a conservative periodical, assailed Ahmadinejad’s initiative as being, properly, the prerogative of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rather than Iran’s president. Other members of the conservative community, notably Parliamentarian Ahmad Tavakoli, have suggested that America’s “arrogant responses” to his president’s message are the result of Ahmadinejad’s conciliatory gesture.

After his election victory, President-elect Obama went on record regarding his stance on any Iranian pursuit or possession of nuclear weapons, calling such possession “unacceptable” and calling for an international effort to halt such a development. The Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed its disappointment with Obama’s message, suggesting the “need for a change in the erroneous impressions of the United States.” The Foreign Ministry has again asserted that Iran does not possess, nor does it seek, nuclear weapons. It remains guarded about its expectations of an Obama administration in Washington. Although some members of the Iranian establishment have argued that the Democratic senator’s presidential victory shows a desire for fundamental change on the part of most Americans, this view is not shared by all. Hassan Qashqavi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, cautioned that Iran “shouldn’t expect fundamental, revolutionary changes in American policy” in response to Obama’s victory, while noting that his own country’s policy would be similarly resistant to change.

Iran faces significant problems with an already rocky economy as oil and gas prices have fallen. There have been concerns expressed over impacts on critical investments in oil infrastructure, and cooperation with foreign companies. In an effort to shore up prices in the gas economy, Iran has been in negotiations with Qatar and Russia to set up a gas cartel, and to develop the South Pars gas field. Between them the three countries have over 60% of global reserves.


Stories and links

Iran claims new Israel-range missile tests, Shirzad Bozogmehr, CNN World, 11/12/08

Iran test-fires new missile, Israel within reach, Zahra Hosseinian, Reuters, 11/12/08

Russia rejects US missile proposals, Guy Faulconbridge, the Star Online, 11/12/08

Ahmadinejad’s letter to Obama sparks storm in Iran, Nazila Fathi, International Herald Tribune, 11/10/08

Iran criticizes Obama’s nuclear comments, Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, 11/10/08

Iran: Fundamental US policy change unlikely under Obama, Reuters, Haaretz, 11/10/08

Iran warns US not to violate Iranian airspace, Edmund Blair, Iran Focus, 11/05/08

Report: Ahmadinejad calls US Syria raid ‘a blind and savage act,’Yoav Stern, Haaretz, 10/31/08

A Puzzling Raid, The Economist, 10/30/08


Comments, editorials and analysis

The United States, Israel, and Iran: defusing an “existential” threat, Chuck Freilich, Arms Control Association, November, 2008

US Wields Financial Sanctions against Iran, Peter Crail, Arms Control Association, November, 2008

Show me the money, Thomas L Friedman, New York Times, November 9, 2008

EDITORIAL: Will Ahmadinejad be undone by the same public dismay that helped Obama?The Daily Star, Nov 11, 2008

Iran opportunity, Chicago Tribune, November, 2008

The problems of engaging with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute Policy Brief no. 1426, November 12, 2008,

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