These remarks came two days after Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, described the nuclear agreement and any subsequent international negotiations as instances of “self-humiliation.” Jafari’s rejection of diplomacy coincided with statements boasting of the expansion of the Iranian ballistic missile program and declaring that the IRGC and the Islamic Republic as a whole have been preparing for all-out war with the US and its Gulf Arab allies.
Although Jafari and Rouhani appear to be at odds with each other over the practical value of negotiations, the president has previously joined the IRGC commander in praising the country’s missile program and vowing to increase its stockpiles of long-range, large payload ballistic missiles. After the US imposed new sanctions on Iran as punishment for the October violation of a UN Security Council resolution banning Iran from testing such nuclear capable weapons, Rouhani ordered his defense minister to rapidly expand ballistic missile production.
Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan followed up on this with assurances of major advancements not only in the Iranian missile program but also in the domestic production and foreign acquisition of other advanced weapons, including Russian-made fighter jets.
On Wednesday, just ahead of Rouhani’s latest defense of diplomacy, Dehqan presided over the opening of an explosives manufacturing plant and spoke to Iran’s state-affiliated media outlets about Iran’s intentions for rapid military advancement.
The Times of Israel quoted him as saying, “Concurrently with its efforts to increase the precision-striking power of its weapons systems, the Defense Ministry has also paid attention to boosting the destructive and penetration power of different weapons’ warheads and has put on its agenda the acquisition of the technical know-how to produce Octogen explosive materials and Octogen-based weapons.”
In addition to its function as an explosive in missile warheads and as a solid rocket fuel, Octogen has potential applications as part of a detonator for a nuclear bomb.
But although advancements in the Iranian ballistic missile program pose a growing threat to the US’s Arab allies, the Islamic Republic is still far from posing a direct military threat to North America or Western Europe. This was underscored by US Navy Admiral Michael Rogers in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. The Associated Press reports that Rogers acknowledged that the US still has much greater military power than all major potential adversaries, including Iran, Russia and China.
However, Rogers also emphasized that all three of these countries have the potential to make up for their comparative military deficiencies through asymmetrical warfare such as cyberterrorism and cyberespionage. As commander of the US military’s Cyber Command, Rogers reported that the gap in power is comparatively narrow in this field. And it threatens to become narrower in the midst of numerous reports about the growth of Iran’s hacking capabilities and marginally successful attacks on American and European systems.
These reports indicate that at the same time the Iranian regime is boasting of its military strength via its official propaganda, it is also quietly working to compensate for actual deficiencies by finding other ways to harm Western infrastructure.