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Iran to import North Korean missiles in 25-year military deal with China

2020-10-19_wqacoagpvo
Following the end on the 18th of October of the 13-year United Nations’ embargo on Iran buying or selling weapons, the roll-out of the military component of the 25-year deal between China and Iran will begin in November.

After a series of meetings in China on the 9th and 10th of October between Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif, and his China counterpart, Wang Yi, this military component may now also feature the deployment in Iran of North Korean weaponry and technology, in exchange for oil.

Most notably this would include Hwasong-12 mobile ballistic missiles, with a range of 4,500 kilometres, and the development of liquid propellant rocket engines suitable for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or satellite launch vehicles (SLVs).

This will all be part of a broader triangular relationship co-ordinated by Beijing and further facilitated by the imminent launch of a new digitised currency system by China.

This sort of co-ordination – between North Korea and Iran and also between North Korea, Iran, and China – is nothing new, although its resumption at such a scale and in such products is.

According to a number of defence industry sources - and recorded in various ‘Jane’s Intelligence Reviews’ (JIR) - over the first five-year period from the onset of Iran’s ballistic missile program in 1987, Iran bought up to 300 Scud B missiles from North Korea.

Pyongyang, though, did not just sell Iran weapons but it was also instrumental in helping Iran to build-out the infrastructure for what has become an extremely high-level ballistic missile program, beginning with the creation in Iran of a Scud B missile plant that became operational by the end of 1988.

According to JIR and other defence sources, this early-stage co-operation in this area between North Korea and Iran also included Iranian personnel travelling to North Korea for training in the operation and manufacture of these missiles and the stationing of North Korean personnel in Iran during the build-out of missile plants.

This model of knowledge and skills transference, of course, has been a key part of the 25-year deal between Iran and China since it was formally agreed back in 2016, including the training of up to 130 young, fast-tracked officers from the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) every year at various military institutions across mainland China.

The simple idea of paying North Korea in oil is also far from new, having been a key method by which Iran helped to fund the development of North Korea’s more powerful Nodong series of missiles as early as the 1990s, according to Kenneth Katzman, Middle Eastern affairs specialist at the Congressional Research Service, in Washington.

According to sources close to Iran’s Petroleum Ministry, he said that oil shipments are the number one suggestion from North Korea to any country that has oil and wants weapons as a means of payment for any weaponry that Pyonyang has available.

The Hwasong-12, first revealed internationally in a military parade on 14 April 2017 celebrating the birthday anniversary of North Korea's founding President, Kim Il-sung, is being made available to Iran in such a way and, from Tehran’s perspective, fits neatly into the delicate military strategy in which it is currently involved.

This is founded on the fact that decades of various sanctions have left the Islamic Republic with a severely constrained ability to defend itself against attacks from hostile aircraft or missiles with its own air force, which leaves a massive standing army as the primary deterrent for land invasion and its own missile defence systems as the primary deterrent for aerial attacks.

On the other hand, though, Iran is aware that any major long-range missile attack on any foreign power allied with the U.S. will end in absolute disaster for it. As former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said: “The threat of committing suicide is a poor deterrent to being murdered.”

Consequently, Iran has consistently stated since 2017 – by order of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei – that it will limit itself to developing ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 2,000 kilometres. Clearly, the Hwasong-12 has a range of double this but, crucially from Iran’s political impact modelling undertaken over recent months, this is unlikely to make the existing relationship with the U.S. worse.

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