Iranians test-fire missile capable of hitting Israel

Iranians test-fire missile capable of hitting Israel

By Kim Sengupta
Thursday, 10 July 2008

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A day after threatening to “set fire” to Israel and American targets in the Gulf, Tehran test-fired nine ballistic missiles yesterday, including a long-range one capable of hitting Tel Aviv.

Iranian state television said the “highly advanced” missiles tested by its Revolutionary Guards included a “new” Shahab-3 missile, capable of reaching targets 1,250 miles (2,000km) away.

Reacting to the announcement, Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said: “Israel does not threaten Iran, but the Iranian nuclear programme, combined with their aggressive ballistic missile programme, is a matter of grave concern.”

Washington, which accuses Tehran of developing a nuclear weapons programme, declared that the development of the new missile was in breach of UN Security Council resolutions while a number of European Union states condemned the test as “dangerous” and “provocative”.

The new missile test was conducted from a desert area with a one-tonne conventional warhead during a military exercise called The Great Prophet III. “We are ready to defend the integrity of the Iranian nation. Our missiles are ready for shooting at any place and any time, quickly and with accuracy,” Brig-Gen Hossein Salami, the commander of the air wing of the Revolutionary Guards, was quoted as saying. “The enemy targets are under surveillance. We warn the enemies who intend to threaten us that our hand will always be on the trigger and our missiles will always be ready to launch.”

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said the missile test vindicated the American plan to place a missile shield in eastern Europe, a move strongly opposed by Russia. “Those who say that there is no Iranian threat against which to be building missile defences perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about … the range of the missiles that they test fired,” said Ms Rice during a visit to Bulgaria yesterday.

The two rivals for the US presidency, John McCain and Barack Obama, also took a strong line. “Iran is a great threat,” said Mr Obama. “We have to make sure we are working with our allies to apply tightened pressure on Iran.”

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said: “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.” He expressed concern that Iran’s ballistic missiles could be used as “a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon”.

Military analysts point out, however, that both sides appear to be exaggerating the threat of the missiles. The new Shahab-3 may have the range to hit Israel, and can carry a nuclear warhead, but it is yet to be fitted with a guidance system. Even if that is done, the Iranians would find it extremely difficult to break through Israel’s sophisticated anti-ballistic missile system.

The immediate effect of this latest bout of sabre-rattling was that the price of crude oil rose by $2.24 to $ 138.28, rebounding from a decline of 3.8 per cent, the biggest in three months.

Israel recently carried out a military exercise, which was widely interpreted as a dress-rehearsal for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Earlier this week, a senior aide to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that Iran would “set fire” to Israel and US naval forces in the Gulf in retaliation. But yesterday, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, insisted Iran had no intention of attacking Israel.

The role of the Revolutionary Guard

In his last will and testament, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the 1979 Iranian revolution, called upon the country’s military to “keep themselves away from political games”. Twenty years after his death, Khomeini hasn’t been heeded. The Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) was set up to defend the principles of Khomeini’s Shia revolution. Today the IRG is a powerful military-industrial complex aligned with the conservative forces of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The IRG, comprising 125,000 troops, exists in parallel to the larger conventional military. It also controls the million-strong Basij militia. The IRG has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the US, in response to its alleged involvement in anti-US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.With a range of business interests, including a stake in the South Pars oil and gas field and allegedly widespread smuggling activity, the IRG has much to defend besides the revolution. In the elections for the Iranian parliament in 2008, the IRG chief Mohammed Ali Aziz Jaafari urged his members to make sure the “principlists” (ie, conservatives) were elected. IRG leaders have also insinuated that Iranian reformist politicians were less than loyal citizens. During the election, Khomeini’s grandson criticised the privileged position of the military in political life – to little avail. The conservatives won.

Jeff Black

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