Speaker: Bahgat, G. (National Defense University)
Date: 18 June 2019
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Gawdat Bahgat (National Defense University) as a part of its SMA CENTCOM Speaker Series. During his presentation, Dr. Bahgat spoke about the continuous buildup of Iran’s missile program since the 1970s. He first characterized the program, highlighting that it is the largest and most diverse missile program in the Middle East, though it is not the most lethal. He further stated that, despite the pressure that the US and Europe have been putting on Iran to cease this buildup, Iran has continued its efforts with little hesitation. According to Dr. Bahgat, Iran’s unwillingness to abandon its missile program is a result of its belief that the Islamic Republic cannot exist without its missile program. This is a matter of Iran’s survival, and therefore, Iran is highly unlikely to accept restraints on its missile program, Dr. Bahgat stated. He then explained that missiles play a prominent role in Iran’s defense and deterrence strategies due to three things: 1) Iran’s experience in the Iran-Iraq War; 2) a military imbalance with regional adversaries (missiles are seen as an “equalizer”); and 3) missiles, from Iran’s standpoint, are a symbol of scientific and technological advancement. Next, Dr. Bahgat discussed the history of Iran’s missile program, as well as its current capabilities. He provided an assessment of the military program, highlighting that since 2017, Iran has primarily focused on improving the accuracy of its missiles rather than their range. He also emphasized that claims regarding Iran’s missile program are often not verifiable. Dr. Bahgat then explained that it is important to compare Iran’s missile program to other regional actors’ programs to provide context. So, he proceeded to speak about Israel’s missiles and missile defense systems, as well as Israel’s close cooperation with the US, and Saudi Arabia’s missile capabilities. To conclude, Dr. Bahgat re-articulated his main points and discussed the way forward for the US.