TEHRAN, (AFP) — Iran test-fired three short-range missiles on Sunday as the Islamic republic began war games two days after the UN nuclear watchdog disclosed it was building a second uranium enrichment plant.
Hossein Salami, air force commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, said that on Monday there would also be a test-firing of the long-range Shahab 3 missile which Iran says has a range of 1,300-2,000 kilometres (800-1,240 miles) and could hit arch-foe Israel.
“Tomorrow we will test the long-range Shahab-3 missile,” he told state television.
He also told reporters, without elaborating, that the Guards tested a “multiple missile launcher for the first time” on Sunday and that later in the day Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 medium-range missiles would be test-fired.
Iran’s Fars news agency said the multiple launcher could fire two missiles aimed at separate targets simultaneously.
Salami called the manoeuvres an “indication” of Iran’s “strong will to defend our values and interests.”
“This exercise has a message of friendship for friendly countries. For greedy countries that seek to intimidate us, the message is that we are capable of a prompt and crushing response to their animosity,” state television website quoted him as saying.
Dismissing Israel as a potential threat, Salami said: “That regime is not in a position that we need to comment about threats from it.”
He said Iran has “increased the precision of our missiles… hopefully, these missile tests will contribute to our deterrent and defensive capabilities.”
Salami said the Guards will not launch any new type of missile during the exercise which is expected to last several days, but he added that Iran “has boosted the number of missiles and can contain long-term missile conflicts.”
Earlier, state media reported that the three short-range missiles fired were of the Tondar-69, Fateh-110 and Zelzal type.
All three weapons, powered by solid fuel, have a range of between 150 and 200 kilometres (90 and 125 miles).
State-owned Press TV broadcast footages of sand-coloured missiles being fired in desert terrain.
The missile manoeuvres come after US President Barack Obama decided earlier this month to scrap a defence shield in Europe promoted by his predecessor George W. Bush.
Obama ended Bush’s plan to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and a powerful tracking radar in the neighbouring Czech Republic by 2013.
He said he had decided to replace the shield with a more mobile system using mainly sea-based missile interceptors.
In taking the decision, Obama emphasised the threat of Iran’s short-range and medium-range missiles instead of the potential danger of its longer-range weapons.
The White House said the intelligence community now believed Iran was developing shorter-range missiles “more rapidly than previously projected” while progressing more slowly than expected with intercontinental missiles.
US ally Israel, most Arab states and parts of Europe — including much of Turkey — are within range of the Shahab-3.
Over the past two years, when Bush was still in office, Iran stepped up work on its ballistic missiles, testing a more advanced medium-range missile using solid fuel, and also said it had successfully put a satellite into orbit.
Iran stages regular military manoeuvres in strategic Gulf waters, showcasing its missiles and other weaponry.
In the past it has threatened to target US bases in the region and to block the strategic Gulf Strait of Hormuz waterway for oil tankers if its nuclear sites are attacked.
Israel and the United States have never ruled out a military option to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, which they suspect of having a military aim. Tehran denies the charge.
On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was building a second uranium enrichment plant, sparking concern by Western leaders.
But Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said the new plant on the road from Tehran to the holy city of Qom will be put under the supervision of the IAEA.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed his announcement.
The disclosure of the new plant came just days before an October 1 meeting in Geneva between Iran and six world powers to discuss Tehran’s disputed atomic programme.