By Howard Schneider and Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 8:27 PM
Iran said today it had test-fired a long-range missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. troops in the region, a step promptly condemned by the Bush administration as heightening tensions over the country's suspected nuclear weapons program.
The roughly 1,200 mile range of Iran's Shahab-3 rocket has been known for several years, but the test firing -- and pointed statements from Tehran about the country's "capability in hitting its enemies" -- added to a tense climate.
Iran "only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said at the meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Japan. He said Iran's missiles violate existing United Nations resolutions, and "[t]hey should . . . refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world."
The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that the missile was test-fired as part of a larger military exercise by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. In Tehran, the Associated Press said that as many as nine missiles of different sizes were fired during the exercise, carried out partly near the Persian Gulf shipping lanes that Iran has threatened to close if it is attacked.
A top Iranian official said this week the country would also retaliate against Tel Aviv if any targets inside the country are struck.
"Our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch," Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami said today, according to the wire service.
The missile tests and statements from Iranian officials are part of a recent sharp back-and-forth between Iran, Israel and the United States that have formed the backdrop to ongoing negotiations about Iran's nuclear program.
Top leaders from all three countries play down the chance of a military confrontation and say they are committed to a diplomatic solution to their disagreements, particularly the nuclear issue.
Iran insists it is only developing nuclear technology for civilian power needs, but the United States is pushing the country to shut down its processing of uranium out of concern that Tehran's ultimate aim is to produce a nuclear weapon. The combination of nuclear technology with long-range missiles, the Bush administration says, would pose a threat to Israel and be broadly destabilizing in the Middle East.
Last month, Israel staged a large military exercise that involved more than 100 warplanes operating over distances they would need to cover to strike Iran. The maneuvers deep over the Mediterranean were interpreted both as a warning to Tehran, and a prod to the United States and other western nations to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.
During its meetings in Japan this week, the G-8 issued a statement reiterating western demands that Iran abandon uranium enrichment.
The Iranian news agency said the military exercise "was aimed at improving combat readiness."
But the firing of the Shahab-3, capable of carrying a 1ton warhead, was "to demonstrate Iran's capability in hitting its enemies accurately at the early stages of their probable attacks against the Islamic Republic," the news agency said. The Shahab-3, it said "is able to reach targets in the occupied lands," a reference to Israel.
Abramowitz reported from Rusutsu, Japan.