Iran Test-Fires Its Most Advanced Missiles

In an act of defiance, Iran tested medium-range missiles, ignoring pressure from the U.S., Elizabeth Palmer reports. Former State Dept. Spokesperson James P. Rubin discussed Iran's stance.
By William Branigin, Thomas Erdbrink and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009; 2:14 PM

Iran reported Monday that it successfully test-fired its most advanced and powerful medium-range missiles as part of war games it said were intended to deter the country's enemies.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps tested the Shahab-3 and Sejil missiles in the third phase of a two-day exercise called The Great Prophet IV, state-run news media reported. The missiles are believed to be capable of striking Israel, U.S. military targets in the Middle East and parts of southeastern Europe.

But Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said the test-firings were part of exercises to practice "preventive and defensive operations." They are "in no way a threat to neighboring countries," Iranian news media quoted him as saying. Rather, the tests send "a message for certain greedy nations that seek to create fear, to show that we are able to give a swift and suitable answer to our enemies."

"The armed forces of the Islamic Republic are now more powerful than ever and fully prepared to foil foreign threats," said Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, military adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Specifically, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi warned Israel against carrying out threats to attack Iran's nuclear sites.

"If this happens, which of course we do not foresee, its ultimate result would be that it expedites the Zionist regime's last breath," Vahidi said on state television. He added that Israel was on a "slope of destruction."

Iran's Foreign Ministry denied that there was any connection between the missile tests and a dispute with the United States and other nations over a newly disclosed underground uranium enrichment plant that U.S. officials suspect is intended to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. A Foreign Ministry spokesman described the exercises as routine and said they were planned long before the latest nuclear controversy, which is scheduled to be discussed Thursday at a meeting in Geneva between representatives of Iran and six major powers, including the United States. Iran has repeatedly denied that it has any intention of producing nuclear weapons.

At a conference Monday of European Union defense ministers in Sweden, E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana called on Iran to immediately resolve issues surrounding the new enrichment facility near Qom and said the missile tests also have raised concerns.

According to Iran's Press TV, the "optimized Shahab-3" missile that was tested early Monday has a range of 1,300 to 2,000 kilometers (807 to 1,242 miles). It did not give a range or precise designation for the Sejil missile that also was reportedly test-fired but said it was a "two-stage missile powered by solid fuel which was tested by the [Revolutionary Guard Corps] for the first time in the maneuver." Press TV said both missiles "accurately hit their designated targets."

In May, however, Press TV reported a successful firing of the Sejil-2 surface-to-surface missile, which it said was first tested eight months earlier. It said that unlike the Shahab-3, which has liquid fuel, the Sejil-2 uses solid fuel, making it faster to prepare for launch. It also said the Sejil-2 is more accurate than the Shahab-3, an older missile based on the Soviet-designed Scud.

Iran also reported Monday that it has equipped its Shahab missiles with new warheads capable of destroying multiple targets simultaneously and that it is now capable of firing missiles from mobile launchers.

The medium-range missiles were fired from the central province of Semnan where Iran's rocket and space programs are located.

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