Iran Test-Fires Missiles in Persian Gulf

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles Wednesday during war games that officials said aimed to show the country can retaliate against any U.S. and Israeli attack, state television reported.

Gen. Hossein Salami, the air force commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, said the exercise would "demonstrate our resolve and might against enemies who in recent weeks have threatened Iran with harsh language," the TV report said.

Wednesday's war games were being conducted at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway through which about 40 percent of the world's oil passes. Iran has threatened to shut down traffic in the strait if attacked.

The report showed footage of at least three missiles firing simultaneously, and said the barrage included a new version of the Shahab-3 missile, which officials have said has a range of 1,250 miles and is armed with a 1-ton conventional warhead.

That would put Israel, Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan within striking distance.

"Our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch," the official IRNA news agency quoted Salami as saying Wednesday.

The report comes less than a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed fears that Israel and the United States could be preparing to attack his country, calling the possibility a "funny joke."

"I assure you that there won't be any war in the future," Ahmadinejad told a news conference Tuesday during a visit to Malaysia for a summit of developing Muslim nations.

But even as Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have dismissed the possibility of attack, Tehran has stepped up its warnings of retaliation if the Americans - or Israelis - do launch military action, including threats to hit Israel and U.S. Gulf bases with missiles and stop oil traffic through the vital Gulf region.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Wednesday's tests "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one."

"Those who say that there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defense system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims," Rice said while traveling in Sofia, Bulgaria.

A White House spokesman called the tests "completely inconsistent with Iran's obligations to the world."

"The Iranian regime only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council.

"They should also refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world," he added, speaking from Japan where President Bush is attending the Group of Eight summit.

In late June, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, who was then the commander of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, said any attempt by Iran to seal off the Strait of Hormuz would be viewed as an act of war. The U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, across the Gulf from Iran.

Israel's military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean for a large military exercise in June that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, which the West fears are aimed at producing atomic weapons.

Iran says its nuclear program is geared only toward generating electricity, not weapons.

The Israeli exercise was widely interpreted as a show of force as well as a practice on skills needed to execute a long-range strike mission.

Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli Cabinet minister, set off an international uproar last month by saying in a published interview that Israel would have "no choice" but to attack Iran if it doesn't halt its nuclear program. Mofaz is a former military chief and defense minister, and has been Israel's representative in a strategic dialogue on Iran with U.S. officials.

On Wednesday, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel "does not desire hostility and conflict with Iran."

"But it is clear that the Iranian nuclear program and the Iranian ballistic missile program is a matter of grave concern," Regev said.

The Guards and Iran's regular army routinely hold exercises two or three times a year.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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