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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Sunday, August 20, 2017

Iran's parliament is considering a proposal to spend nearly $550 million to bolster security and expand the country's missile program.

The proposal follows an Iranian rocket strike on Islamic State in Syria that analysts called retaliation for twin terror attacks in Tehran and a warning to regional rivals.

The bill would raise the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) budget to $8 billion, in addition to an already approved five-year development plan that requires the government to earmark at least 5 percent of the national budget to defense, particularly development of the multidimensional missile program.

The June 18 strike — the first time Iran fired missiles outside its borders in 30 years — hit IS command centers in the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor and a bomb-manufacturing facility outside the city, the IRGC said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the "Islamic Republic will respond more decisively to any future terrorist attack on Iran's soil."

And former IRGC chief General Mohsen Rezai wrote on Twitter, "The bigger slap is yet to come."

A parliament correspondent in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was little doubt the bill would pass because it projected patriotism and some legislators are retired IRCG commanders or have strong ties with the force.

Symbol of pride

Although Iran's defense budget is less than those of many of its Arab neighbors, the missile program is considered a symbol of national pride and deterrence.

Iran has surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, including the Zolfaghar, the kind Iran used to hit IS in Syria. The military also has missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), long enough to reach Israel and U.S. bases.

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi, former deputy speaker of parliament, has called the missile program one of the major pillars of sovereignty.

Babak Taghvaee, a Malta-based Iran military expert, said the additional fund for missile development "would probably be spent on the domestically produced Ya-Ali cruise missile, which was long awaited for financial sources."

"I assume a big chunk of this money is going to be dedicated to [research and development] on anti-jamming and target-error-correcting technology," he said. The money would be insufficient to push Iranian missile capability close to that of Chinese or Russian weapons, but it would help the Iranians "enhance their progress in terms of making missiles more accurate."

Still, the timing of the bill, which will be considered in the coming days, and the agility to be able to spend such a large amount are very important factors to consider, analysts say.

U.S.-Saudi deal

President Donald Trump sealed a $110 billion arms deal last month with Iran's chief rival in the region, Saudi Arabia, and Tehran was stung by the IS-claimed June 5 attacks on parliament and the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that killed 17 people.

"The quick reaction of parliamentarians in putting together the bill and accelerating country's missile program projects the level of insecurity Tehran feels from its southern neighbors teaming up with the United States under the Trump administration," said retired Iranian Admiral Houshang Aryanpour, now based in Virginia.

"The successful missile strike, which was also a real-time test for them, was a great victory for IRGC to be rewarded after that huge frustration of the Tehran attacks," Aryanpour said. "This bill carries, for sure, a propaganda aspect within and serves domestic public opinion."

The U.S. and Israel are rankled by Iran's increasing missile activity, which they see as a threat to regional stability.

'Bad behavior'

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Iran this year over what it called "bad behavior" with respect to Iranian missile tests, and last Thursday the U.S. urged the United Nations to closely watch Iran's missile buildup.

The U.N. said Thursday that Tehran was in compliance with its obligations under an international nuclear deal, but U.S. envoy Nikki Haley disputed that.

Under Security Council Resolution 2231, Iran is "called upon" to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years. Tehran and Moscow argue that the language does not make such restraint obligatory. The U.S. and Israel strongly objected to an Iranian missile test in March 2016 that they said violated the U.N. resolution.

"Iran's destructive and destabilizing role in the Middle East goes far beyond its illicit missile launches," Haley said. "From Syria to Yemen and Iraq to Lebanon, Iran's support for terrorist groups continues unabated. Iran's weapons, military advisers and arms smugglers stoke regional conflicts and make them harder to solve."

Last Wednesday,  Haley told a congressional panel that the United States is now taking a more assertive role at the world body to hold North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and other authoritative regimes accountable.

"Our friends and our rivals know that America has once again found its voice at the United Nations," Haley told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The international community is now very clear about what the U.S. is for and what the U.S. is against."

Haley, a former South Carolina governor who has served in the U.N. post for five months, said she successfully pushed the U.N. Security Council to adopt additional measures against North Korea's continued nuclear weapons development and missile tests, while drawing "a red line" against Syria's use of chemical weapons that led President Donald Trump to launch a missile attack against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

In a related development, Iraqi forces last Thursday retook control of the destroyed historic mosque in the city of Mosul, where three years ago the head of the Islamic State group declared the establishment of a caliphate.

Militants blew up the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri mosque and its leaning 45-meter minaret last week, furthering the devastation of Mosul during eight months of fighting.

A spokesman for the U.S. military operation against IS said the Iraqi military had liberated the mosque in "a dawn assault," furthering the Iraqi military's push into the Old City.

Fighting continued Thursday in Mosul, but members of special forces fighting militants in the city told VOA they thought they would be in control of the Old City section of western Mosul — the Islamic State's stronghold — by Friday or Saturday.

The Iraqi security forces, who have been backed by airstrikes and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition, "continued their advance on the remaining two ISIS-holdouts: the Old City and the al-Jamouri Hospital complex," said the military spokesman, Army Colonel Ryan Dillon.

Dillon called the eventual liberation of Mosul "imminent" and said the so-called IS caliphate was crumbling "from the outside and from within."

"ISIS cannot stop the progress that Iraqis and Syrians have mounted in the last two years," Dillon wrote on Twitter. "As ISIS continues to lose territory, their morale plummets and ISIS leaders have abandoned fighters to die."

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said capturing the mosque in Mosul amounted to an acknowledgement of defeat by Islamic State.

"We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh [Islamic State] state, the liberation of Mosul proves that. We will not relent, our brave forces will bring victory," he wrote on Twitter.

The militant group has lost control of the other major Iraqi cities it once held, and while it controls more areas in Syria, a collection of forces there is focused on recapturing the de facto IS capital of Raqqa.

By:  Arthur Popowitz