TEHRAN, Iran - Iran yesterday test-fired an upgraded version of an advanced missile capable of hitting Israel and parts of Europe, an apparent show of strength aimed at discouraging attacks on its nuclear facilities.
The test of the medium-range Sajjil-2 fueled calls for tougher sanctions against Tehran, which has resisted U.N. demands that it rein in its nuclear ambitions. Iran touted the launch as a success proving it can deter any U.S. or Israeli military strike against its nuclear facilities.
"This is a matter of serious concern to the international community, and it does make the case for us moving further on sanctions," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said after talks with U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon in Copenhagen, Denmark. "We will treat this with the seriousness it deserves."
Britain's Foreign Office said Iran had the "clear intention to extend the range of its missiles," calling the launch "the wrong signal to send when the international community is trying to find a diplomatic solution" to its growing nuclear program.
Yesterday's test was the third for the Sajjil-2 since it was unveiled in May. The missile has the longest range of any in Iran's arsenal, about 1,200 miles - putting Israel, Iran's sworn enemy, and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf region well within reach.
Iran has dramatically accelerated its domestic missile program in recent years, part of a bid to depict itself as a military and technological power and reduce its past reliance on purchases abroad. The missile program has raised deep concerns in Israel and the West, though experts are skeptical over some of Iran's claims of advances.
In Washington, Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell called the launch provocative but said the technology was not "particularly different than anything we've seen in the past."
But equally important is the political message, Washington-based security analyst Alex Vatanka said. "One signal is very clear; they are saying Iran will not negotiate with the West from a position of weakness," said Vatanka, an intelligence analyst. "The message from Iran today is that Tehran can do more, Iran's arm is long."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment. But former Israeli Defense Ministry official Uzi Rubin told Israeli television, "The fact that they are capable of carrying out three launches in a year is significant, because it means the Iranians are investing a lot of money in this."
The fear in the West is that Iran might eventually be able to produce intercontinental, three-stage missiles, which can reach more than 3,500 miles, putting much of Europe in its reach.
Iran has repeatedly warned it will retaliate with attacks on Israeli nuclear sites or U.S. bases in the region if either country carries out military strikes against its nuclear facilities. The United States and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, and Israel has not ruled out military action to stop Iran's program.
Discovery of a purported Iranian secret document that appears to describe a work plan for developing a neutron initiator, used to detonate a nuclear bomb, is the latest worry. U.S. officials have not been able to determine its authenticity.
Iran denies seeking a nuclear warhead, saying its nuclear program is intended solely to generate electricity.
Negotiations over the program have been deadlocked for months, with Iran equivocating over a U.N.-drafted deal aimed at removing most of the low-enriched uranium from the country so it would not have enough to produce a bomb.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog last month sharply rebuked Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, and Washington has warned that Iran is running out of time to accept the deal or face new sanctions.
A List of Iran's Missile Arsenal
SAJJIL-1 and SAJJIL-2:
Iran's most advanced two-stage, surface- to-surface missile. It is powered entirely by solid fuel, which increases accuracy. It has a range of 1,200 miles, within striking distance of Israel, parts of Europe and U.S. bases in the Mideast.
Medium-range ballistic missile that can hit targets within a radius
of 800 miles. It is considered to have a low accuracy rate.
Lighter than Shahab-3, with a 1,110-mile range.
A liquid-fueled Shahab-3B with a range of 1,200 miles.
A single-stage, liquid-fuel missile with a range of 310 miles. Also known as the Scud-C.
A short-range, solid-fuel missile. Versions of the Zelzal have ranges of 130 to 185 miles.
A short-range, solid fuel missile with that can strike targets up to
120 miles away.
TONDAR 69 (Thunder):
A Chinese-made, solid-fuel missile with a range of about 93 miles.
Arms Control Association