The Iranian test of the newly redesigned Emad missile in October was further evidence of the conventional military role of Iranian missiles. The test showcased the missile's advanced guidance system, aimed at achieving the high degree of accuracy needed for pinpoint targeting. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan pointed out that now, for the first time, an Iranian missile could be controlled until the very last moment before hitting its target.
Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, arguably the world's leading independent specialist on the Iranian nuclear program, said in an interview that it would take years of development and testing for Iran to achieve that kind of accuracy. He does not believe that the development of the missile has been aimed at delivering nuclear weapons.
"Was the Emad designed to deliver a nuclear weapon? Probably not," Elleman said, although he added that Iran is capable of modifying the Emad to carry a nuclear weapon "without much difficulty." Still, doing so would require some redesign of the missile, according to Elleman. "At least the internal components would be different," he said.
"The intelligence community says that if the Iranians were to get nuclear weapons, missiles are the way they would deliver it," Elleman said. But Elleman observed that, because Iran has had no other means of responding to an external attack, it has to rely on ballistic missiles for its defense in any case. "Assuming that Iran decided to forgo nuclear weapons for the next three decades," he said, "missiles would still be the cornerstone of their deterrent strategy."
So the Obama administration's official line that the missile was "capable of delivering a nuclear weapon" is a political dissimulation. It is a way of justifying the continuation of the U.S. denunciation of the Iranian missile program, which is demanded by domestic politics and U.S. alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia -- even in the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran. It is only realistic to expect, therefore, U.S. policy on that subject to be marked by hypocrisy and duplicity for years to come.