Iran does not need to increase the range of its ballistic missiles beyond 2,000 kilometers at present because American military bases and interests lie within this radius, the chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) said on Tuesday. "Based on the policies specified by the Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei), the range of our missiles is limited to 2,000km, but we have the capability to increase the range; yet at present it is sufficient because the Americans are in a 2,000km radius from our country and their attacks will be responded," Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari added. Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran, the I.R.G.C. commander rejected the possibility of a military confrontation between the United States and Iran, but warned that Washington and its allies “are seeking to harm the Islamic Republic regime through a soft war and economic pressure.” Jafari had previously warned that if Washington designated the I.R.G.C. as a terrorist organization, the U.S. military “should relocate its bases in the region out of the 2,000-kilometer reach of Iranian missiles.”

Separately, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iranian Armed Forces said that Iran will defy U.S. pressure and continue to improve the “precision-striking” capability of its missiles. He claimed that Iranian missiles are not designed for carrying nuclear warheads and stressed that American sanctions would not deter the country from developing its defense capabilities.

Comment: It is not the first time that Iranian military leaders have threatened to attack American troops and interests in the Middle East. Earlier this month, Jafari cautioned that if Washington goes ahead with the “stupid decision” to designate the I.R.G.C. as a terrorist organization, his forces will treat U.S. soldiers in the Middle East and across the world the same as Islamic State terrorists – adding that U.S. will also have to leave its military bases in the region to avoid Iranian missiles. The I.R.G.C. commander further emphasized that any new U.S. sanctions would end the prospect of further dialogue forever – arguing that such a move would prove that Washington exploits negotiation as a tactic to put pressure on its adversaries rather than resolve disputes diplomatically.

The deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Brigadier General Massoud Jazzayeri issued a similar warning, saying that Iran will confront the Trump administration’s “aggressive policies” by “teaching America new lessons.”  Hinting that Iran may take action against U.S. interests in the region, Jazzayeri said “the era of America’s presence and domination in West Asia has come to an end,” adding that the Trump administration “needs some shocks to learn the new concept of power in today’s world.” He further emphasized that Tehran will not succumb to U.S. pressure and will continue to enhance its missile and defensive capabilities.

While the I.R.G.C.’s threat to launch missile attacks against U.S. bases in the region appears to be mere bluster, the elite force has a long history of waging asymmetrical warfare against the U.S. military in the region. Thus, any potential response to harm U.S. interests will most likely come from Iran’s regional proxies, particularly in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Tension between Washington and Tehran has escalated as the Trump administration recently decertified the Iran nuclear deal and adopted a more aggressive policy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic. Iran’s launch of several ballistic missiles this year has been one reason Washington has accused Tehran of violating the “spirit” of the nuclear agreement. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed new sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Despite international pressure, there appears to be a consensus among political and military leaders in Tehran to continue and further advance Iran’s missile technology at any cost.

On Wednesday, Khamenei declared that Iran will not negotiate with Western powers on the country’s defense capabilities, including the missile program. “As I have declared in the past and am repeating it, the country’s defensive power and assets are not open for negotiation and bargaining,” he stressed. “And we will forcefully continue the path to power,” he told a gathering of graduates from Iranian Army universities.  

While the nuclear agreement does not address Iran’s missile program, the subsequent U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Iranian leaders argue that the country’s missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads, but U.S. officials say some of the missiles Iran has tested after the 2015 nuclear deal have been "inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons" and are "in defiance of" the U.N. resolution.