Iran reports long-range missile launch in exercise
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran said Tuesday it test-fired several ballistic missiles, including a long-range variety meant to dissuade an Israeli or U.S. attack, alongside a push by Washington to beef up its military might in the region.
The powerful Revolutionary Guard's acting commander told state TV that the tests, aimed at mock enemy bases in a war games exercise, were a response to refusal by Israel and the U.S. to rule out military strikes to stop Iran's nuclear program.
"It is a response to the political impoliteness of those who talk about all options being on the table," Gen. Hossein Salami said.
The official IRNA news agency said the surface-to-surface missiles successfully hit their targets. The semi-official Fars said the salvos included the so-called Shahab-3 missile.
Iran has tested a variety of missiles in previous war games, including a Shahab-3 variant with a range of 2,000 kilometers that can reach Israel and southern Europe. The missiles are also capable of hitting U.S. bases in the region.
Iranian state TV showed video of several missiles being launched.
"So far, we have launched missiles from 300 to 1,300 kilometers (180 to 800 miles) in the maneuver," said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard's aerospace division. He hinted that some missiles had an even longer range.
Israel is about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away from Iran's western borders, while the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Iranian shores in the Persian Gulf.
The Iranian commander quoted by Fars said Iran used both unmanned and manned bombers in the war games and was firing a variety of other missiles. Tehran says the drills aim to assess the accuracy and effectiveness of its warheads and weapons systems.
Tensions over Iran's nuclear program provided the backdrop.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. remains "deeply concerned" over Iran's missile development. She said the drills are in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that "prohibits Iran from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons."
A European Union oil embargo meant to pressure Iran over its nuclear program went into effect on Sunday.
The West suspects the Islamic Republic wants to build nuclear weapons, and Israel has hinted at an attack if diplomatic efforts and sanctions fail to eliminate what it sees as a direct threat.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as power generation and cancer treatment.
Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya college, said the missile test was "first and foremost for domestic consumption."
"The Iranian regime has been saying for years that the Europeans can't live without Iran's oil. The imposition of sanctions and the fact that all of Europe has stopped buying Iranian oil has contradicted the message of the Iranian government," he said. "They need to maintain an image of strength with the people of Iran, and for now, these maneuvers are the best they can do," he added.
Iran's latest show of force comes as the United States ramps up its presence in the Gulf.
The Pentagon recently doubled the number of minesweepers in the region, giving the U.S. greater flexibility to counter any Iranian effort to mine the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The strait is routinely patrolled by Iranian and U.S. warships. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strategic waterway, which is the transit route for about a fifth of the world's oil supply, in retaliation for increased Western-led sanctions.
Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said the four additional minesweepers arrived in the region on June 23. They join four similar ships normally assigned to the naval force.
He did not link their arrival directly to Iran, saying they are used to ensure commercial shipping can continue in international waters. But there was little doubt their presence is meant as a deterrent against any effort to mine the strait.
U.S. military commanders requested the additional minesweepers to provide "greater flexibility to support a wider range of possible contingencies and training," Raines said in an emailed response to questions.
Another ship, the USS Ponce, has also entered the 5th Fleet's area of operation, which includes the Gulf region, and is due to arrive in Bahrain later this week. It will add to the Navy's existing firepower in the region, where two aircraft carrier strike groups are also on patrol.
The Ponce was an amphibious transport dock that was recently retrofitted to become what is known as an afloat forward staging base. That effectively means it can act as a floating stop-off point for helicopters, patrol ships and special forces.
In addition to the naval presence, the U.S. military stations fighter jets and other aircraft at a number of air bases in friendly Arab nations across the Gulf from Iran. The Pentagon plans to keep 13,500 troops in Kuwait to give it the ability to respond to sudden conflicts in the region following the American military withdrawal from Iraq, according to a congressional report last month.
The study by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that in addition to ballistic missiles, Iran's conventional military includes 350,000 ground troops, 1,800 tanks and more than 300 fighter aircraft.
Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed reporting.