On Wednesday, March 9, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards test-fired two ballistic missiles. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency, "The reason we designed our missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers is to be able to hit our enemy, the Zionist regime, from a safe distance." Hajizadeh, who is commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force, added that if Israel dared to take hostile action against the Islamic Republic, it would receive a “crushing response.”
Over the past six months, while the nuclear agreement was being approved and implemented, the Revolutionary Guards openly expanded their missile program.
“The biggest threat to the Islamic Republic comes from the Zionists,” said Mohammad-Ali Jafari, Commander of the Revolutionary Guards, on Tuesday, March 8. “The range of most of our missiles covers the usurper Zionist regime.”
Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, reported that one of the missiles tested on Wednesday was stamped with the words "Israel must be wiped from the face of the earth" in Hebrew. This sentence is a quotation from Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. But none of the pictures published in the Iranian press shows such an inscription on any of the missiles.
Tasnim also published a souvenir picture of a group of military personnel and reporters next to a ballistic missile. They quoted a Revolutionary Guards commander as saying, “some people take souvenir pictures next to a French Airbus, but we take pictures next to our own native Iranian products.”
He was referring to a state visit President Rouhani made to France in January, during which Iran signed a deal to buy 118 Airbus planes worth $25 billion. On February 20, when an Airbus 350 landed on the runway of Imam Khomeini International Airport, a number of Iranian officials had their pictures taken with the plane. Hardliners denounces the photos and described them as a symbol of national humiliation.
A New Front for Tensions
The US government has threatened to refer Iran’s missile program to the UN Security Council. In January the US Treasury Department levied sanctions against 11 entities and individuals it said were involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program. While the missile tests did not violate the nuclear agreement, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said there were "strong indications" that they were inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The resolution, which was adopted in 2015, calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology."
The Revolutionary Guards’ insistence on testing ballistic missiles may open a new front between Iran and the US. This seems to be exactly what Iranian hardliners, and especially the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, want following the defeat of hardline candidates in Iran’s 2016 elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts last month.
Following his supporters’ gains in elections, President Rouhani has been talking with more confidence about Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. “We can let negotiators talk to the world about other subjects as well,” he said three days ago in a news conference. “In such negotiations we will get the same results as in nuclear negotiations.”
Such statements can be as unpleasant for the military and hardline officials as the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From this point of view, it seems that the missiles were targeted at both Israel, and Iran’s elected officials.