by Yoni Hersch, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Images suggest Tehran is developing long-range ballistic missiles at remote desert facility in country's northeast, New York Times reports
The Sharhud facility, where Iran is suspected of secretly
developing ballistic missile technologyPhoto: David Schmerler/Center for Nonproliferation Studies
New satellite images indicate Tehran is developing long-range ballistic missiles at a remote desert facility in the country's northeast, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
In 2011, an explosion nearly razed Iran's long-range missile research facility and killed the military scientist who ran it, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam. Many Western intelligence analysts regarded the incident as a devastating setback to Tehran's technological ambitions.
In recent months, however, weapons researchers from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California stumbled on a series of clues that led them to a startling conclusion: Shortly before his death, Moghaddam oversaw the development of a secret, second facility in the remote Iranian desert, which they say is still very much operational.
For weeks, The New York Times reported, the researchers picked through satellite photos of the so-called Shahrud facility. They discovered, they say, that work at the site now appears to focus on advanced rocket engines and rocket fuel and is often conducted under cover of night.
It is possible that the Shahrud facility is developing only medium-range missiles, which Iran already possesses, or perhaps an unusually sophisticated space program, according to the report.
However, analysis of structures and ground markings at the facility strongly suggests, although it does not prove, that Iran is indeed developing the technology for long-range missiles. Five outside experts who independently reviewed the findings agreed there was compelling evidence that Iran is developing long-range missile technology.
Missile engine tests, when conducted in desert landscapes like those around Shahrud, can burn ground scars, shaped like candle flames, into the terrain, the report continued.
In their analysis of the satellite photos of the area around Shahrud, researchers say, they found two tell-tale ground scars in a crater a few miles away – larger than those at Moghaddam's publicly known facility.
The scars were recent. One appeared in 2016, the other in June 2017.
Such a program, if it indeed exists, would not violate the nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers in 2015. If completed, however, it could threaten Europe and potentially the United States. If Iran is found to be conducting long-range missile work, it would certainly add to the tensions between Tehran and the U.S.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the Trump administration will work with as many allies as possible to reach a new deal to halt "all of Iran's nuclear and non-nuclear threats."
"We will apply unprecedented financial pressure, coordinate with [the military] on deterrence efforts, support the Iranian people … and hold out the prospects for a new deal with Iran," Pompeo said.
"It [Iran] simply needs to change its behavior," Pompeo continued. "In the almost three years of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal], the Iranians marched across the Middle East. We're simply asking Iran to be a normal country."
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian military, said: "Iranian armed forces are now, thank God, more prepared than ever and will not wait for the permission or approval of any foreign power to develop defense capabilities."
He slammed the U.S. as "a criminal and oppressor, isolated and angry with corrupted and oath-breaker leaders who are mercenaries of the Israeli regime."
"This enemy, while afraid of facing Iran head-on in battle, is trying instead to exert pressure on Iran in the economic sector and through psychological warfare," he added.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed as "untrue" Pompeo's charges against the Islamic republic.
"Pompeo and other U.S. officials are trapped in old illusions. … They are taken hostage by corrupt pressure groups," he told state television.
Yoni Hersch, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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