Iran builds new longer-range missile

Iran Materials 27 November 2007 20:47 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Iran on Tuesday announced it has built a new missile with a range sufficient to put Israel and US bases in the Middle East within easy reach, amid rising tensions over Tehran's contested nuclear drive.

Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the new "Ashura" missile had a range of 2,000 kilometres ( 1,240 miles) -- the farthest in Iran's arsenal -- state media reported.

"The construction of the Ashura missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres is one of the accomplishments of the ministry of defence," Iranian news agencies quoted Najjar as saying.

"The missiles are being made in line with Iran's deterrent and defence doctrine," he added.

However there has been considerable confusion in recent months about the capacities of Iran's longer-range missiles, seen by experts as one of its chief military assets.

Iran in September at its main military parade unveiled a missile labelled Ghadr-1 (Power), which was said to have a range of 1,800 kilometres ( 1,100 miles).

The country's best-known longer-range missile, the Shahab-3, has been said by officials in the past to have a range of 2,000 kilometres. Yet at the military parade it was said to have only a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) range.

Some Western military experts claimed that the Ghadr-1 was no more than a Shahab-3 under a different name. It has the "baby bottle" style nose for extra aerodynamic efficiency seen on versions of the Shahab-3.

The agencies did not publish any pictures of the new Ashura missile, which is named after the holy mourning ceremony marking the death of Shiite imam Hossein.

Najjar added to the confusion on Tuesday by saying that Iran was developing Ghadr missiles that would also have a range of 2,000 kilometres.

Iran has regularly touted the abilities of its missile arsenal at a time of mounting tension with the West over its nuclear programme.

The defence minister also announced that Iran had developed a new submarine named "Ghadir" after another holy day and a destroyer called "Moj" (wave), without giving further details.

The United States has never ruled out a military attack against Iran to punish its years of defiance in the nuclear crisis, even though Washington says it favours solving the standoff though diplomacy.

The Islamic republic has said it will never initiate any attack but has also warned it will strike back with crushing force if the United States launches an assault.

Iranian military officials have publicly threatened to hit US bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the Arabian peninsula with their missiles if Washington attacks.

" Iran will never launch an attack but if Iran is attacked we will respond with all our force against aggressors," Najjar was quoted by saying.

The United States accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge that Tehran vehemently denies.

It has also vowed never to recognise Israel -- the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power -- and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the Jewish state to be "wiped from the map."

Iran is one of the few regional powers absent from a US-hosted meeting in Annapolis, Maryland that aims to kick-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Iranian officials have expressed frustration that states such as Saudi Arabia and its ally Syria are attending the meeting.