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Iran reveals underground ‘missile city’ as regional tensions rise

An Iranian locally made cruise missile is fired during war games in the northern Indian Ocean and near the entrance to the Gulf, Iran June 17, 2020.

Wana News Agency | via Reuters

Iranian state TV has aired footage of what it said was a new Revolutionary Guard base, a “missile city” armed to the teeth with cruise and ballistic weapons. 

Inside the underground facility, the footage broadcast Monday shows what appear to be advanced munitions including scores of missiles lined up along concrete walls. Outside, the base hosts what the Guard said is electronic warfare equipment, including radar, monitoring devices and simulation and disruption systems.

“What we see today is a small section of the great and expansive missile capability of Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces,” Guards commander Gen. Hossein Salami said on the broadcast.

The state TV broadcast did not disclose the exact location of the base, and its authenticity hasn’t been independently verified, but it is believed to be one of several underground facilities that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard has built along the Gulf coast as tensions with the U.S., Israel and the region rise.

“Iran’s parading of its missile capabilities fits in with broader efforts to maintain pressure on Washington in response to extensive U.S. sanctions,” Torbjorn Soltvedt, principal MENA analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC on Tuesday. “On the nuclear, missile and regional security front, Iranian efforts to place a cost on U.S. sanctions continue apace.”  

Washington and Tehran remain at a standoff as both have indicated a desire to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the Iranian nuclear deal that offered Iran economic relief from sanctions in return for limits to its nuclear program — but each side wants the other to offer concessions first.  

Iran demands that the U.S. lifts sanctions if it is to engage in talks; the Biden team says it won’t lift sanctions unless Tehran reverses its breaches of the nuclear deal. Those breaches include upping its uranium enrichment and stockpiling beyond the parameters of the JCPOA, curtailing U.N. inspector access to its nuclear facilities, and producing uranium metal, which can be used in a nuclear bomb.  

The U.S. itself initially ditched the nuclear deal under the Trump administration, which then imposed harsh sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and currency. 

The “missile city” raises questions about how the U.S. and Europeans are going to revive the nuclear deal. 

“There’s also no doubt that Iran’s growing missile capability is a complicating factor for the Biden administration as it explores the possibility of a U.S. return to the JCPOA,” Soltvedt said.  

Iran, lacking the advanced air force of some of its regional neighbors like Israel and the UAE, has instead invested heavily in indigenous missile development and has one of largest missile programs in the region. 

“The IRGC in general places a lot of emphasis on using missiles to project power,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The missile city is “indicative of how much importance the IRGC Navy places on conventional missiles in projecting its power into the Gulf.” 

Critics of the 2015 deal, which include the Gulf Arab states, want to see a more comprehensive approach from President Joe Biden that confronts and curtails Iran’s missile activity.

This presents the Biden team with a dilemma, Soltvedt says: “Incorporating issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program will make a new nuclear deal much more difficult to achieve. But leaving them out will damage relations with key regional security partners.”

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