Iran’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons Continues Apace

In December, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Islamic Republic had tested a ballistic missile that could easily be equipped with a nuclear warhead. Last week, Pompeo warned Tehran to refrain from launching satellites with certain types of rockets since these use the same technology employed in ballistic missiles. Farzin Nadimi puts these remarks in context:

The [description of the missiles as given by Pompeo] in December match those of the Khoramshahr, a relatively new medium-range ballistic missile unveiled in September 2017 and test-fired on at least three occasions. . . . The Khoramshahr can reportedly carry a far heavier payload than would be required for a weapon whose purpose is pinpoint accuracy—its claimed 1,800-kilogram warhead would make it the largest in Iran’s arsenal. One possibility is that this extra capacity is designed to carry multiple warheads. . . . If Iran has in fact successfully tested such a capability for the first time, it would be an alarming milestone, since multiple warheads have a better chance of defeating missile defenses.

The Khoramshahr’s large payload would also make the job of mating it with a first-generation nuclear warhead relatively easy, at least in theory. One rule of thumb among experts is that any missile capable of carrying a 500–1,000-kilogram warhead can be mounted with a nuclear device. Khoramshahr reportedly offers twice that capacity—a troubling figure given the fact that miniaturizing a warhead is arguably one of the most daunting tasks in nuclear-weapons design.

[T]he international community should not forget that the [ballistic-missile] program remains a central pillar of Iran’s strategy for dominating the region. Although Tehran became less public about its missile advancements following the [2015] nuclear deal, there has been no substantive halt in the program’s progress. Most troubling, the latest test indicates that [Tehran] is moving forward with the Khoramshahr, a ballistic-missile design that may already have the capability of lifting a heavy payload to targets anywhere in the Middle East or southern Europe.

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More about: Iran, Iran nuclear program, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey