Anyone wondering why President Bush has been so insistent on missile defense, and why NATO embraced it in its new defense doctrine, will have those questions answered in today’s Times of London. Long-range missile sites have been spotted through satellite imagery in Iran, and the construction shows potential capabilities for a 4,000-mile range. That easily puts eastern Europe within Tehran’s sights, and explains why Poland and the Czech Republic seem so enthusiastic about becoming an integral part of the defense umbrella:

The secret site where Iran is suspected of developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching targets in Europe has been uncovered by new satellite photographs.

The imagery has pinpointed the facility from where the Iranians launched their Kavoshgar 1 “research rocket” on February 4, claiming that it was in connection with their space programme.

Analysis of the photographs taken by the Digital Globe QuickBird satellite four days after the launch has revealed a number of intriguing features that indicate to experts that it is the same site where Iran is focusing its efforts on developing a ballistic missile with a range of about 6,000km (4,000 miles).

A previously unknown missile location, the site, about 230km southeast of Tehran, and the link with Iran’s long-range programme, was revealed by Jane’s Intelligence Review after a study of the imagery by a former Iraq weapons inspector. A close examination of the photographs has indicated that the Iranians are following the same path as North Korea, pursuing a space programme that enables Tehran to acquire expertise in long-range missile technology.

The Iranians claim that the sites are used for commercial space projects, but Jane’s analysts say they are clearly military in nature. The sites have heavy military security and have continued to expand far past the needs of a commercial application for rocketry. They look very similar to North Korea’s existing military facilities for long-range missiles, not surprising since the Shahab-3 relies on North Korean designs for the Nodong and the Taepodong missile classes.

According to the analysis provided by the Times, the Iranians could have missiles ready in five years that could hold Europe hostage to the mullahcracy. This meets the timelines set by NATO and the US to have interceptor sites completed in Poland and the Czech Republic by 2013. It also explains why George Bush has remained steadfast on missile defense.

This isn’t an academic pursuit any longer, but a critical means to stop proliferation by making the barriers to entry so costly as to discourage it. In order to get past a missile defense like the one proposed, Iran would have to build hundreds of sites and thousands of missiles, which would be an economic impossibility. Other nations that would try to threaten the West through missiles would face the same economic hurdle with even fewer resources than Iran, and not bother to even start such a program.