Procurement: Where Terrorists Get Their Missiles

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July 19, 2006: The Chinese-designed C-802 missile that damaged an Israeli Saar 5-class corvette recently has implications beyond the present conflict in Lebanon. It shows that the threat of a transfer of weapons technology, from a state sponsor of terrorism like Iran, to a terrorist group, is very real.

Transferring an anti-ship missile like the C-802 is very difficult. Anti-ship missiles are big (the C-802 weighs 1500 pounds and is 21 feet long), and the launch vehicles are going to be about as big as a tractor-trailer rig. This is a system that is conspicuous, and hard to hide. The other thing to consider is that other stuff could be transferred as well. China has provided Iran at least 75 of these missiles, which have been installed on a variety of Iranian vessels (including newly-acquired missile boats from China, as well as older Sa'am-class frigates and Kaman-class patrol craft). China, of course, has received missile technology transfers from Israel (albeit this technology was for the Patriot surface-to-air missile, and had nothing to do with Chinese anti-ship missiles - an Israeli sale of its Phalcon AEW system was aborted). Israel also turned over data from the Lavi project, which later was used in the J-10 program.

Iran's transfer of C-802 missiles (along with the training to use them) is not the only such threat that has been worried about. One of the reasons that the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was the possibility of the transference of chemical or biological weapons. The amount of these weapons needed to cause mass casualties are small - and artillery shells full of sarin nerve gas or mustard gas are much smaller than a C-802. Vials of anthrax, ricin, or smallpox are even smaller. The thought of weapons of mass destruction possibly getting into the hands of terrorists who are willing to die to complete their mission warranted removal of Saddam Hussein's regime, which had not shown the ability to transfer weaponry to terrorists (although Saddam Hussein was willing to cut $25,000 checks to the families of murder-suicide bombers).

Iran, though, now has been known to provide Hezbollah with anti-ship missiles. In a very real sense, the Iranian transfer of at least two such missiles has highlighted the threat posed by state sponsors of terrorism. If something like an anti-ship missile can be transferred, with all the inherent transportation difficulties moving one entails, what else has Iran given Hezbollah? And what else would Iran be willing to transfer if they were to have the opportunity? These are questions that will make world leaders very nervous. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)


 

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