Forget about peace and tranquility to start the new year: Iran said it successfully-test-fired two long-range missiles over the Strait of Hormuz Monday, one day after it announced the successful testing of its first domestically-produced nuclear fuel rod. The missile tests mark the climax of a 10-day naval exercise beginning on Dec. 24, which have included a threat from Tehran to close the Hormuz Strait, a waterway that carries one-third of the world's seaborne oil trade, if the West imposes further sanctions. Here's what we know about the long-range missiles' capabilities and where this leaves Iran diplomatically.
The Long-range cruise missiles According to Iranian Adm. Mahmoud Mousavi, the first long-range missiles were Qadar surface-to-sea cruise missiles that successfully hit their target during the test. The New York Times reports that the cruise missiles were first unveiled in August and are "said to be capable of striking warships at a range of about 125 miles, a distance that would include some American forces in the Gulf region." The Daily Mail notes that the missile system also puts Iran within striking distance of Israel. The "Qader" missiles, a word that translates to "able," are said to be able to strike coastal targets as well as warships. Iranian state TV also announced the testing of its "Nour" (light) missile system, which are long-range anti-warship missiles that emulate China's C-802 missiles. Putting on a show for the Iranian people, Iranian state TV showed the testing of medium-range missiles on Sunday. Euro News has the video:
The fuel rods Explaining what the development of nuclear fuel rods means for Iran, Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics, tells Bloomberg "If Iran has indeed produced its first nuclear fuel rod using its own domestic capabilities that would represent progress in its program, as just last year there was significant doubt they had that ability.” Over the weekend, Iran said the rods were specifically for the peaceful development of medical radiosotopes for treating cancer patients, not nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Israel maintain that Iran is covertly developing a nuclear arms program. Javedanfar emphasized that the rods' development could be merely propaganda. “It is possible though that this is part of the psychological warfare launched by Iran against what they see as the tough economic sanctions being placed against it by the U.S.”
The diplomatic front Curiously, the weekend's muscle flexing by Iran was followed by gestures to re-ignite talks between Iran and the West. Reuters reports that "[Iranian] that nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili would write to the EU foreign policy chief to say Tehran was ready for fresh talks on its nuclear program. Talks between Iran and six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - stalled in January." Additionally, the Times reports that Adm. Mousavi was quoted on television Sunday retracting his country's threat to close the Hormuz Strait. "We won’t disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. We are not after this.” What effect the country's simultaneous missile testing and diplomatic outreach will have on the Obama administration's moves to further sanction Iran is yet to be seen. However, the muscle flexing has had a measurable effect on oil prices. As Bloomberg notes,Crude futures surged to a three-week high of $101.77 a barrel on Dec. 27 after the Islamic Republic News Agency cited Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying the country would bar shipments through the strait if sanctions are imposed on its oil exports."