Monday, September 28, 2009
Iran said it successfully completed two days of missile tests that including launching its longest-range missiles on Monday, weapons capable of carrying a warhead and striking Israel, U.S. military bases in the Middle East, and parts of Europe.
State television said the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which controls Iran's missile program, successfully tested upgraded versions of the medium-range Shahab-3 and Sajjil missiles, which can fly up to 1,200 miles. It was the third and final round of missile tests in two days of drills by the Guard.
The Sajjil-2 missile is Iran's most advanced two-stage surface-to-surface missile and is powered entirely by solid-fuel while the older Shahab-3 uses a combination of solid and liquid fuel in its most advanced form, which is also known as the Qadr-F1.
Solid fuel is seen as a technological breakthrough for any missile program as solid fuel increases the accuracy of missiles in reaching targets.
The war games come at a time when Iran is under intense international pressure to fully disclose its nuclear activities. They began Sunday, two days after the U.S. and its allies disclosed that Iran had been secretly developing an underground uranium enrichment facility and warned the country it must open the site to international inspection or face harsher international sanctions.
Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said Sunday the drills were meant to show Tehran is prepared to crush any military threat from another country.
The revelation of Iran's previously secret nuclear site has given greater urgency to a key meeting on Thursday in Geneva between Iran and six major powers trying to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Alex Vatanka, a senior Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's, said Tehran was conducting missile tests now "to show some muscle, show some strength, and say the game is not over for Iran yet." He noted the upcoming meeting in Geneva.
"They felt going into these meetings ... that they needed to have something else to bolster their position, and I think that Iran's Revolutionary Guard showing a bit of military muscle here is part of that," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she doesn't believe Iran can convince the U.S. and other world powers at the upcoming meeting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, as Tehran has long claimed. That puts Tehran on a course for tougher economic penalties beyond the current "leaky sanctions," she said.
The nuclear site was revealed in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom and is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard, according to a document sent by President Obama's administration to lawmakers.
After the strong condemnations from the U.S. and its allies, Iran said Saturday it will allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine the site.
Israel has trumpeted the latest discoveries as proof of its long-held assertion that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
By U.S. estimates, Iran is one to five years away from having nuclear weapons capability, although U.S. intelligence also believes that Iranian leaders have not yet made the decision to build a weapon.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi identified the newly revealed site as Fordo, a village located 180 kilometers south of the capital Tehran. The site is 100 kilometers away from Natanz, Iran's known industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant.
Qashqavi, however, said the missile tests had nothing to do with the tension over the site, saying it was part of routine, long-planned military exercises.
Iran also is developing ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, but the administration said last week that it believes that effort has been slowed. That assessment paved the way for Obama's decision to shelve the Bush administration's plan for a missile shield in Europe, which was aimed at defending against Iranian ballistic missiles.
State media reported tests overnight of the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles, with ranges of 185 miles and 435 miles, respectively.
That followed tests early Sunday of the short range Fateh, Tondar and Zelzal missiles, which have a range of 120 miles, 93 miles and 130 miles, respectively.
Iran's last known missile tests were in May when it fired its longest-range solid-fuel missile, Sajjil-2. Tehran said the two-stage surface-to-surface missile has a range of about 1,200 miles — capable of striking Israel, U.S. Mideast bases and southeastern Europe.