By Lucas Tomlinson, ,
Published September 26, 2017
EXCLUSIVE: Iranian state television released video footage Friday claiming to show the launch of a new type of medium-range ballistic missile, a few hours after it was displayed during a military parade in Tehran.
But it turns out Iran never fired a ballistic missile, sources say.
The video released by the Iranians was more than seven months old – dating back to a failed launch in late January, which resulted in the missile exploding shortly after liftoff, according to two U.S. officials.
President Trump had originally responded to the reported launch in a late-Saturday tweet, saying, “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!”
This was after Trump, speaking before world leaders at the United Nations, called the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment” to the United States.
“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” he said.
Trump later told reporters he had made up his mind about the deal, but wouldn't say whether he would pull the United States out of the nuclear accord with Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking at the U.N. one day after Trump, maintained his country’s missile program was “solely defensive” in nature.
“We never threaten anyone, but we do not tolerate threats from anyone,” he said. Rouhani returned to Tehran two days later to preside over the missile parade featuring the new medium-range design and said his country would build as many missiles as necessary to defend itself.
Afterward, the footage was aired, with Iranian media claiming a successful test launch – though it apparently showed the failed January launch.
At the time, Iran was attempting to launch its new Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile for the first time. It flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a reentry vehicle, officials said at the time.
The failed late January launch was first reported by Fox News and prompted the White House to put Iran “on notice” days later.
Iran’s new medium-range missile is based on a North Korean design—Pyongyang’s BM-25 Musudan ballistic missile, which has a maximum range of nearly 2,500 miles, putting U.S. forces in the Middle East and Israel within reach if its problems are fixed.
“The very first missiles we saw in Iran were simply copies of North Korean missiles,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “Over the years, we've seen photographs of North Korean and Iranian officials in each other's countries, and we've seen all kinds of common hardware.”
Last weekend, a senior Iranian general said the missile had a range of less than 2,000 miles.
"The Khoramshahr missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers [1,250 miles] and can carry multiple warheads," Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted Revolutionary Guards aerospace chief General Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying.
“I am not sure why the Iranians are lying about the range,” one U.S. official said. “I think they don’t want to piss the Europeans off.”
The official and others declined to be identified because they were not authorized to disclose sensitive information to the press.
Experts say Iran possesses the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, with more than 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Tehran has conducted over 20 missile tests since 2015.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Iran is “supplying proxies such as Hezbollah and Syria’s al-Assad regime with a steady supply of missiles and rockets” and “likely supplying Houthi rebel groups with short-range missiles in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.”
U.N. resolution 2231 -- put in place days after the Iran nuclear deal was signed -- calls on the Islamic Republic not to conduct ballistic missile tests, but does not forbid them from doing so, after Russia and China insisted on the watered-down language in order to pass the resolution.
Iran is "called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology," according to the text of the resolution.
Iran claims the tests are legitimate because they are defensive in nature.