Iran tests upgraded long-range missile

Dec 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Iran tests upgraded long-range missile

December 16, 2009 11:52 a.m. EST
Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi told Press-TV the high-speed Sajil-2 missile has “great maneuverability.”

Tehran, Iran (CNN) — Iran tested an upgraded version of a surface-to-surface missile with a range that makes it capable of reaching parts of Europe, state-run television reported Wednesday.

Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi said on Press-TV that the solid-fuel, high-speed Sajil-2 missile has “great maneuverability” and can access targets more than 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) away, making Israel and U.S. military bases in the Gulf reachable.

Vahidi said the missile has a shorter launch time and is intended to boost Iran’s deterrent capability.

Iran tested the initial version of the Sajil-2 back in May.

Then in September, days before a key meeting over nuclear issues with industrialized powers, Iran tested two types of long-range missiles.

Video: Iran tests long-range missile

Those tests drew condemnation after the Islamic republic revealed the existence of a covert uranium enrichment site near the city of Qom.

Iran shocked the world with that revelation. Since then, it has allowed inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to visit the plant.

Western powers fear Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons. That’s a claim Tehran denies, but the latest test-firing of the Sajil-2 could add to existing tensions.

Iran Test-Fires Its Most Advanced Missile

Published: December 16, 2009
New York Times

CAIRO — Iran announced Wednesday that it had test-fired an improved version of its most advanced missile capable of reaching Israel and parts of Europe, in a move that appeared aimed to discourage a military attack on its nuclear sites and to defy Western pressure over its nuclear program.

The announcement provoked immediate rebukes from the White House and leaders in Europe, and appeared likely to intensify pressure from the United States and other Western powers to impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran.

A White House spokesman told Reuters that the test undermined Iran’s claims that its nuclear program is peaceful, and said it would “increase the seriousness and resolve of the international community to hold Iran accountable” for its provocations.

The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the missile test “does make the case for us moving further on sanctions,” according to the Associated Press.

Iranian television gave a brief report on Wednesday of a successful test of the two-stage, solid-fuel missile called a Sejil-2. Iran’s defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, said the new missile is faster, more accurate and harder to shoot down than earlier versions and that it increases “the country’s technical and tactical powers,” according to Iran’s official news agency.

Iran was clearly sending a warning to the West and to Israel, regional experts said.

“It shows that Iran has the ability to stir unrest in the region and impact U.S. interests,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of The East Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “It can reach the oil fields on the other side of the Gulf.”

Iran’s test aggravated already tense relations with the West following a breakdown in efforts to diplomatically resolve a dispute over its nuclear program. Iran backed off a deal that would have required it to ship most of its low-enriched uranium abroad, where it would be processed, turned into fuel for a medical reactor and returned.

But once the deal was announced in October, it quickly became a political liability inside Iran as political adversaries of the government attacked its terms. Since then, the Iranian government has tried to reshape the deal to something that could be sold at home, issuing terms which the West had already rejected.

At the same time, Iran’s military has put on a show of force. Last month, the military staged five days of war games specifically aimed at discouraging an attack on its nuclear sites and officials warned they could hit Tel Aviv if they chose.

This latest missile test raises the stakes for negotiators, and for Iran’s regional neighbors.

“This is the missile of greatest concern at this point,” said Valerie Lincy, senior associate at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control from her office in Paris. “So the fact that they’re testing it now is worrisome in of itself and worrisome if you put it in the context of what’s going on with the nuclear program.”

Though the range of this rocket is comparable to the liquid-fueled Shahab III, which Iran first obtained from North Korea, a solid-fuel rocket is easier to use on short notice, easier to hide from attack, and more accurate, experts said.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, an ideologically driven military, political and economic powerhouse, controls both the missile program and the nuclear program. The West has accused Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons, which it has denied, insisting it is developing civilian nuclear technology. As that conflict has burned for years, the Guards have worked aggressively to enhance the missile program.

The decision to make this test comes against a backdrop of Iran’s own internal political crisis sparked by the disputed presidential election in June. The Guards have taken control of internal security and have been uncompromising domestically or internationally. Internally, leaders of the Guards have called for arresting leaders of the reform movement and internationally they have rejected any compromise on the nuclear program.

Political analysts said that the Guards might benefit from heightened conflict with the west and even from tougher sanctions, allowing the force to protect its economic and political interests.

“Iran is rational,” said Mr. Labbad. “It likes to appear as though it’s crazy. But they know very well to what level they are escalating this to.”

Mona El Naggar contributed reporting.

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