Iran commander: US forces within range of our missiles

Iran does not need to increase the range of its ballistic missiles, as its current models are already capable of striking US forces in the region, the head of the paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said Tuesday.

Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said Iran’s supreme leader had restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in the country to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles).

“Our missiles’ range is 2,000 kilometers, and that can be increased, but we believe this range is enough for the Islamic Republic as most of the US forces and most of their interests in the region are within this range,” Jafari said in comments carried by the Tasnim news agency and translated by Reuters.

The comments by Jafari to reporters mark the first acknowledgement that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has imposed limits on the country’s ballistic missile program.

The range of 2,000 kilometers encompasses much of the Middle East, including Israel and American military bases in the region. That’s caused concern for the US and its allies, even as Iran’s ballistic missile program was not included as part of the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers.

However, Jafari said he didn’t believe there would be any war between Iran and the US

“They know that if they begin a war between Iran and the United States, they will definitely be the main losers and their victory will by no means be guaranteed,” he said. “Therefore, they won’t start a war.”

While keeping with the anti-American tone common in his speeches, Jafari’s comments also seemed to be timed to calm tension over Iran’s missile program.

By limiting their range, Iran can contrast itself against threatening countries like North Korea, as Pyongyang has tested developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the US mainland and conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date. Pyongyang also flew two powerful new midrange missiles over Japan, between threats to fire the same weapons toward Guam, a US Pacific territory and military hub.

The Trump administration already sanctioned Iran for test-firing a ballistic missile in February, with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn warning Tehran that Iran was “on notice.” US President Donald Trump’s recent refusal to re-certify the nuclear accord has sent the matter to the US Congress. On Thursday, the US House of Representatives voted to put new sanctions on Iran for its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles, without derailing the deal.

Iran long has insisted its ballistic missiles are for defensive purposes. It suffered a barrage of Scud missiles fired by Iraq after dictator Saddam Hussein launched an eight-year war with his neighbor in the 1980s that killed 1 million people. To build its own program, Tehran purchased North Korean missiles and technology, providing much-needed cash to heavily sanctioned Pyongyang.

The Gulf Arab nations surrounding Iran, while hosting American military bases, also fly sophisticated US fighter jets that Iranian forces can’t match. The ballistic missiles provide leverage against them, as well as the US-made anti-missile batteries their neighbors have bought, according to Tytti Erasto, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“Iran’s pattern of missile testing — which has sought to address the long-standing problem of poor accuracy — is consistent with the program’s stated purpose as a regional deterrent,” Erasto wrote Monday. “It also reinforces the argument that Iran’s missiles are designed to be conventional, not nuclear.”

Still, Iran could use the missiles as “a tool of coercion and intimidation,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, the senior Iran analyst at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which takes a hard line on Tehran and is skeptical of the nuclear deal.

“A secure Islamic Republic that does not fear kinetic reprisal is more likely to engage in low-level proxy wars and foreign adventurism, much like we see today,” he said.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Iran broke ground at its Bushehr nuclear power plant for two more atomic reactors to generate electricity. State television quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying the first new reactor would go online in seven years, while a third would be active in nine years.

Russia will provide assistance in building the new reactors as Moscow helped bring Bushehr online in 2011. It marks the first expansion of Iran’s nuclear power industry since the atomic accord.

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