Reuters is reporting that Iran has received its first batch of BM-25 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) from North Korea. The wire service is basing its account on recent comments from the chief of Israeli military intelligence chief (Major General Amos Yadlin), who told a lecture audience that a small number of BM-25s have arrived in Iran.
As we noted in late January, the BM-25s are former Russian sub-launched ballistic missiles (SS-N-6s), that were "de-nuked," reconditioned and sold to Pyongyang, which is now transferring them to Tehran. Land-based versions of the missile are believed to have a range of 2500-4000 km, allowing Iran to reliably target Israel, along with much of eastern and southern Europe.
We use the word "reliably" because Iran's own efforts at building an intermediate range missile have been largely unsuccessful. Acquiring the BM-25 would give Tehran a ready, intermediate range strike capability, and substantially reduce the time/effort required to develop its own IRBMs. Many analysts believe Tehran could conduct a test launch of an imported BM-25 later this year--while the world community grapples with the issue of Iran's nuclear program, and how to deter it.
Along with its "intimidation" value, the BM-25 offers another advantage to Iran. The original missile (the SS-N-6) was designed to carry a nuclear warhead. As Tehran moves toward development of its first nuclear weapons, there are issues of size and weight to contend with. Fitting an early nuclear warhead on the BM-25 might be easier that trying to mate it to a medium-range missile, like the Shahab-3.
When the German press first reported Iran's suspected purchase of the BM-25, it raised an important question: if Iran was still years away from having the bomb, why was aggressively acquiring a proven nuclear delivery system? Rapid introduction of the BM-25--something that we're still waiting to see--might be an indication that Iran's nuclear efforts are more advanced that we believe, and Tehran will have the bomb sooner than expected.