Sunday, September 10, 2006

Video of Iranian Missile Test Is Fake, Pentagon Says

Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times:
U.S. military intelligence has determined that a video released by the Iranian government purporting to show a test of a new submarine missile is bogus, three Pentagon officials confirmed.

The Iranians released the video Aug. 27, one of a series of steps the Tehran government has taken in recent months to display its military potency in the midst of a confrontation with the United States and other Western nations over its nuclear ambitions.

The test apparently was designed to intimidate Iran's neighbors in the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which are U.S. allies and important oil-producing countries, regional experts said. The video showed what appeared to be a successful test of a submarine-fired missile that flies above the water's surface to attack ships.

But U.S. intelligence officers analyzed the plume of smoke from the missile and determined it matched a video of an earlier Chinese test.

"It's the identical launch," a Pentagon official said. "The plume, everything, is the same." READ MORE

U.S. officials have been unable to confirm whether any test took place during the Iranian exercise. They say they are certain, however, that the video of the purported test is not of an Iranian sub in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been closely tracking developments in Iran in an attempt to monitor Tehran's efforts to build up its nuclear capabilities as well as its conventional military capacity. The surveillance efforts are part of what experts see as a strategic contest of increasing complexity, with the two nations working to decipher each other's motivations and intentions.

The purported missile test was announced by Iran's official news agency a day before the video was released and just before an Aug. 31 deadline set by the United Nations for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment.

The Bush administration is pushing for U.N. sanctions against the country unless it stops enriching uranium. Although Iran, an oil-rich country, says it is solely pursuing civilian power, the U.S. and other countries believe Tehran is intent on building nuclear weapons.

The test video was broadcast on Iranian state television and picked up around the world, including by CNN and Fox News.

What has American military officers scratching their heads is why the Iranians would see the need to release a phony video.

"They have enough things they can do to frighten people, I don't know why they would have to fake something," a senior defense official said. "They are frightening enough as it is without faking things."

Iran said it was conducting the test as part of a summer war games exercise in the Persian Gulf that began Aug. 19. U.S. military officials believe such exercises are aimed primarily at intimidating gulf countries.

"It is like when the missiles went through Red Square in front of the Politburo," a military official said. "Their MO is to put on a media blitz."

The officials asked that their names not be used because the Defense Department had decided not to publicize the discovery. Taking on the role of superpower tattletale could exacerbate already tense relations, or provoke more, real tests.

The missile was named Sagheb, meaning "penetrating" or "piercing." After the alleged test, Adm. Sajjad Kouchaki, the top Iranian naval commander, said on Iranian television that the weapon was a long-range missile that could be fired from a variety of ships and evade radar.

(A copy of the Iranian television report, including the video of the missile launch, can be seen at

"It is smart," Kouchaki said, according to a BBC transcript. "It has a very high degree of precision, taking the enemy by surprise. The missile has a massive destructive power."

Pentagon officials said Iran had several Russian Kilo-class submarines, the kind shown in the Chinese video. Iran's growing naval capability is real, said the senior official, which is what made the use of fake video seem particularly "clumsy."

"They do have a serious military capability," the official said. "They are a growing military problem."

Wayne White, the former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East intelligence office, called the news of the deception "a scream."

"I was looking at what they were showing" on the video, White said. "And it was not the kind of thing that would intimidate a military of the capabilities of the United States."

White argued that Iran wanted to intimidate Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries, saying that if the U.S. tried to destroy Iran's ability to create nuclear weapons, oil tankers in the gulf would be a likely target of an initial Iranian counterattack. And Iran may hope that the threat it poses to U.S. allies in the region is its best chance at pressuring Washington not to attack.

The video, White said, "is aimed at intimidating the Saudis and the gulf states, to get them to press Washington not to exercise the military option."

But he said that Iran's recent tactics seem to be self-defeating, only working to increase the perception in Europe that the country is becoming an ever greater world threat.

And so why highlight a video, so easily determined to be fake?

"They may not have believed that the inauthenticity would be so easily detected," said John Calabrese, a scholar at the Middle East Institute. "It's an attention-grabber. But it's bizarre."