Iran's Missile Tests Create New Standoff
Experts say the U.S. does not want to attack Iran but could rally for sanctions.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2009— -- The United States, Israel and its allies are condemning Iran's missile tests, conducted a few days after world leaders called out the country for building a secret underground nuclear facility. But Iran refuses to cave under world pressure, continuing its dangerous provocation instead.
In a show of defiance, Iran tested short- and long-range missiles today and Sunday, including its longest-range missiles yet, which U.S. experts said are capable of hitting Israel and U.S. bases in Europe.
"Obviously these were pre-planned military exercises," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters today. "I would lump any of these into the provocative nature in which Iran has operated on the world stage for a number of years."
The latest move from the Iranian regime comes after President Obama revealed to the rest of the world last week that Iran was building a secret underground nuclear facility in the mountains near the city of Qom.
The White House and some of its allies, including France and Great Britain, are calling for immediate international inspection and "unfettered access" to the secret nuclear plant.
"I think that would be the least that they can do," Gibbs said at the daily White House press briefing. "They have decisions to make. ... They can continue the path that they've been on ... or it can make a decision to step away from its nuclear weapons program and build confidence in the world and... enter into a meaningful relationship with the world based on their own security, but not based on nuclear weapons."
The tests and revelation of the nuclear site could set a troubling precedent for Iran's relations with the rest of the world, experts said.
"I think we're going to see a step up of this confrontation going into the fall, and we could, at some point, enter the logic of war and bomb," Robert Baer, a former CIA official and author of "The Devil We Know," told "Good Morning America" today.
While the threat of war is unlikely (chief of staff Mike Mullen has said it's the last option) because of the fear of Iran retaliating and causing havoc in the region, the idea is not completely off the table.
The United States is working on a 15-ton, bunker-buster bomb that could do deep into the earth, nearly 60 yards down. But, while the weapon is nearly finished, the United States does not want to take that option.
The United States has warned of severe sanctions if Iran fails to comply with demands to let international nuclear inspectors visit the Qom facility, with Obama saying Friday that Iran will "have to come clean and they are going to have to make a choice."
But that could be difficult because not all the members of the United Nations Security Council are likely to back the tough penalties Washington might want.
If Iran's trade partners are on board, severe sanctions could have a detrimental impact on Iran and its economy. If European nations get on board, they could block exports of cars, machinery and chemicals. If Russia, whose President Dmitry Medvedev said last week sanctions are unproductive but could be inevitable, also joins, it could block weapons sales. Seventy percent of Iran's weaponry comes from Russia.
And if China, the country that has so far been least committed to sanctions, joins, it could cut gasoline exports, which make up 40 percent of Iran's imports. The country is rich in natural gas but does not have modern gasoline refinement capacity.
But experts say even such stringent sanctions are unlikely to prevent Iran from provoking the world and to cause it to abandon its dream of a nuclear bomb.
"This regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard ... which runs the country, are very bloody minded and they would look at this as a challenge they are ready to meet," Baer said. "They will retaliate. ... They have a deterrence doctrine, which is looking at Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf."
The Revolutionary Guard eventually wants its own nuclear bomb, and if it has it, it would be in the hands of the hardliners, "which makes it much more dangerous," Baer said.