MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - The announcement of the successful launch of the Sejil-2 missile, made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week, revived global disputes about the Iranian missile and nuclear threat and the closely related U.S. ballistic missile defense system.
Sejil-2 is a two-stage surface-to-surface ballistic missile of a new generation, with a range of some 1,240 miles. It can presumably hit targets in Israel, Asia Minor and the Balkans.
However, analysts doubt that it is a completely new missile and believe Iranian television showed the launch of the Shahab-3 missile created in the early 2000s on the basis of North Korea's Nodong missile.
But this does not change the essence of the debate. The main issue is the possibility of Iran using its missiles and the number of troops and equipment necessary to respond to a potential Iranian strike.
The political importance of Iran's missile program is greater than its military implications. The creation of new missiles increases Tehran's political bargaining power with the West. The broader capabilities Iranian missile designers show, the more Iran may receive in response for its potential concessions.
This tactic does not entail any real threat of the use of these missiles. A potential Iranian missile strike will almost certainly result in the total destruction of Iran's missile capability and in heavy losses for the country and its economy. This cannot justify the relatively minor damage Iran would likely exact from its adversaries.
Therefore, the announcement of new missile tests and missile characteristics should be viewed as PR spin aimed at raising Iran's stakes in the global political game.
However, the situation may become sinister if Iran creates nuclear warheads for its missiles. This upping of the stakes will almost definitely tighten military tensions around Iran and rule out the possibility of talks on different problems.
This is what is now happening on the Korean Peninsular after North Korea held its second nuclear test. In fact, it has pushed Pyongyang into nearly complete isolation.
The situation around Iran is also being influenced by the other key regional country, Israel, which can and will deliver a strike at Iran's nuclear facilities under certain conditions. It is unclear if and when Israel will cross the thin line into a military operation, disregarding world public opinion.
At the same time, the United States is deploying ballistic missile defense (ABM) systems to ward off Iran's missile threat. The ABM system has provoked heated debates between the U.S. and Russia, which claims that the systems, if deployed as planned, are designed to intercept Russian rather than Iranian missiles.
Russia has several times proposed an alternative plan of deploying interceptor missiles on Iran's borders - in Turkey, Kuwait and possibly Iraq. This would simplify the task of intercepting Iranian missiles without endangering Russia's nuclear missile capability.
The plan provides for using not the expensive silo-launched GBI missiles but the theater high-altitude area defense (THAAD) U.S. PAC-3 and Israeli Arrow (Hetz) missiles, and other mobile (and possibly naval) systems.
Does the United States consider the Iranian missile threat to be serious, or is it using it as a pretext for deploying its ABM systems spearheaded against Russia? We will know the answer when Washington responds to Russia's proposal.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.