Iran Tests Fires Missiles ‘In Response to US, Israeli Threats’
July 9, 2008 - 9:52 AMIranian state-run television announced on Wednesday that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had “successfully test-fired” missiles capable of reaching Israel and U.S. targets in the region.
Iran said it was a “response to threats coming from the U.S. and Israel.”
Tensions between Iran, the U.S. and Israel escalated over the past few weeks following press reports suggesting that Israel may be considering an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Last month, Israel reportedly held a large military exercise that some people described as a dress rehearsal for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites.
“Iran’s development of ballistic missiles is a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and completely inconsistent with Iran’s obligations to the world,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Wednesday.
Iran should abandon the development of ballistic missiles “which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon,” Johndroe said on the sidelines of a G-8 summit in Japan.
The U.S., Israel and the West believe that Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is meant to generate power, but it has refused a United Nations Security Council demand that it halt uranium enrichment – a process that is used to generate nuclear fuel or build a bomb.
Israel has said that Iran cannot be allowed to reach the point where it has enriched enough uranium to be used in a weapon. Israel also notes that Iran is developing a missile system that could be used to deliver nuclear warheads.
Johndroe said the U.N. Security Council and Germany “are committed to a diplomatic path” including a “generous package of incentives” in exchange for Iran suspending its uranium enrichment.
Iran “should also refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world,” he said.
In Washington, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama -- reacting to the test launches -- said the U.S. must pursue aggressive diplomacy -- something the Bush administration has not done.
“If we don’t, then we’re going to continue to see rising tensions that could lead into real problems,” Obama said on NBC’s “Today” show.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said that Israel wasn’t looking for trouble but couldn’t ignore Iran’s pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missiles.
“Israel seeks neither conflict nor hostilities with Iran,” said Regev in a statement. “But no one in the international community can remain indifferent to the Iranian nuclear program and to Iran’s program to develop ballistic missiles.”
The missile test launch comes on the third day of Iranian missile exercises in the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz, dubbed Great Prophet 3.
Iranian news agencies announced the start of the missile drills just hours after the U.S. 5th Fleet began military exercises in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. said it was practicing maneuvers to protect “maritime infrastructure such as gas and oil installations.”
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Naval Commander Morteza Saffari said that the maneuver was intended to show that the IRGC Navy “is fully prepared to counter any possible enemy aggression or adventurism.”
It also sends a message to regional countries that together they can secure the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz without “the presence of foreign forces,” Saffari said.
IRGC Air Force Commander Hossein Salami was quoted as saying that the exercise would demonstrate “just how strong-willed the Islamic Republic is in defending its sovereignty against any challenges by those enemies that have used harsh and threatening words against Iran in recent weeks.”
In contrast to the tough rhetoric from the elite forces commanders, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he did not foresee war.
“I assure you that there won’t be any war in the future,” Ahmadinejad told a news conference in Malaysia, the Associated Press reported. He said he believed that the Israeli “regime” eventually would be destroyed without Iranian intervention.
He was also quoted as saying that President Bush would not attack Iran, although the Iranian people were “ready to defend their own land.”
The IRGC tested the Shahab-3 missile on Wednesday, which has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles). That would put all of Israel -- and some U.S. interests as well -- within range, Iranian Press TV reported.
The Shahab-3 was equipped with a one-ton conventional warhead.
According to the report, nine “highly advanced missiles with improved accuracy” were launched simultaneously. In addition to the Shahab, the Zelzal, with a range of 400 kilometers (240 miles), and the Fateh, with a range of 170 kilometers (102 miles), also were fired.
Iran has threatened to counterattack Israel by launching Shahab-3 missiles if its nuclear sites are attacked.
Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said that just because Iran carried out the test on Wednesday doesn’t mean it was successful.
Iran has been talking about improving the range of the Shahab-3 for a number of years, so it is important for them to say that the missile has been upgraded. It is a matter of making the missile more accurate, making it able to carry a larger warhead and extending its range, Kam told Cybercast News Service.
But even without the upgrade, the older version had a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (900 miles), which could reach Israel, Kam said. Iran is believed to have several dozen of the missiles, he said.
How much damage the missiles could cause depends on how well Israel’s Arrow anti-missile defense shield works, said Kam. The basic Shahab-3 has a warhead three times the size of the Iraqi Scuds that slammed into Israel, causing extensive damage during the 1991 Gulf War, he said.
The shorter-range missiles also could spell trouble for Israel if they were given to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah -- something Iran has done in the past, Kam said. During the brief Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006, at least some of the 4,000 rockets launched at Israel came from Iran.
In related news, Russia and the U.S. are at odds over the planned U.S. deployment of a anti-missile defense shield in Europe.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned this week that if the U.S. deployed the missile defense system it would respond not with diplomatic measures but “military-technological methods.” (See story)