TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fired missiles carrying cluster warheads to shouts of “God is the Greatest” at the start of 10 days of military manoeuvres on Thursday, state television reported.
Tehran had said the manoeuvres, which will include drills in the Gulf and Sea of Oman, were to show off “defensive strength”.
Days earlier, navies led by the United States practiced blocking the ransport of weapons of mass destruction in the Gulf.
Tensions between Iran and Western powers are high as the latter try to agree a draft U.N. sanctions resolution aimed at forcing Tehran to scale back atomic work they fear may be used to make bombs. Iran says its aims are purely peaceful.
“Dozens of missiles were fired including Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles. The missiles had ranges from 300 km (190 miles) up to 2,000 km (1,240 miles),” Iran’s main state television channel reported.
Footage showed six missiles, which television said included Shahabs, being fired from mobile launchers and leaving long vapour trails as they soared into the air above the desert near the holy city of Qom in central Iran.
As they rose, Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards who gave the firing order, and other Guardsman were heard shouting: “God is the Greatest”.
A reporter for the Arabic-language Al-Alam television, also state-owned, told Reuters by telephone from the launch site that the Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles launched on Thursday had been installed with cluster warheads.
“Iranian experts have made some changes to Shahab missiles installing cluster warheads in them with the capacity to carry 1,400 bombs,” an announcer on Iran’s main state television channel said.
Experts say Iran’s Shahab-3 missiles have a maximum range of some 2,000 km (1,240 miles), making them capable of hitting Israel as well as U.S. military bases in the Gulf. They say the Shahab-2 missile has a range of up to 700 km (435 miles).
Iran’s manoeuvres follow U.S.-led naval exercises involving 25 nations in the Gulf on Monday to train forces to block the transport of weapons of mass destruction and related equipment.
U.S. officials accuse Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, of planning to equip its missiles with nuclear warheads. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear programme is aimed at making electricity not bombs.
The Revolutionary Guards, the ideologically driven wing of the armed forces which has a separate command structure from the regular military, held war games in the Gulf in April in which they tested new missiles, torpedoes and other equipment.
Safavi had said the latest war games would be dubbed “The Greatest Prophet” and would comprise drills by ground, air and naval forces, including submarines, mainly in the Gulf and Sea of Oman.
Analysts interpreted those exercises as a thinly veiled threat that Iran could disrupt vital oil shipping lanes if pushed by an escalation in the dispute over the country’s nuclear programme.