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Iran says test-fire of missile able to avoid radar a success

Fuels suspicion over Tehran's plan

TEHRAN -- Iran's military said yesterday that it successfully test-fired a missile not detectable by radar that can use multiple warheads to hit several targets simultaneously, a development that raised concerns in the United States and Israel.

The Fajr-3, which means ''victory" in Farsi, can reach Israel and US bases in the Middle East, Iranian state media indicated. The announcement of the test-firing probably will stoke regional tensions and feed suspicion about Tehran's military intentions and nuclear ambitions.

''I think it demonstrates that Iran has a very active and aggressive military program underway," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington. ''I think Iran's military posture, military development effort, is of concern to the international community."

General Hossein Salami, the air force chief of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, did not specify the missile's range, saying how far it can travel depends on the weight of its warheads.

But state-run television described the weapon as ''ballistic" -- suggesting it is of comparable range to Iran's existing ballistic rocket, which can travel about 1,200 miles and reach arch-foe Israel and US bases in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region.

''Today, a remarkable goal of the Islamic Republic of Iran's defense forces was realized with the successful test-firing of a new missile with greater technical and tactical capabilities than those previously produced," Salami said on television, which showed a brief clip of the missile's launch.

''It can avoid antimissile missiles and strike the target," the general said.

He said the missile would carry a multiple warhead, and each warhead would be capable of hitting its target precisely.

''This news causes much concern, and that concern is shared by many countries in the international community, about Iran's aggressive nuclear weapons program and her parallel efforts to develop delivery systems, both in the field of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

''The combination of extremist jihadist ideology, together with nuclear weapons and delivery systems, is a combination that no one in the international community can be complacent about," Regev said.

Yossi Alpher, an Israeli consultant on the Mideast peace process, said the news ''escalates the arms race between Iran and all those who are concerned about Iran's aggressive intentions and nuclear potential."

''Clearly it's escalation, and also an attempt by Iran to flex its muscles as it goes into a new phase of the diplomatic struggle with the UN Security Council."

Andy Oppenheimer, a weapons specialist at Jane's Information Group, said the missile test could be an indication that Iran has MIRV capability. MIRV refers to multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, which are intercontinental ballistic missiles with several warheads, each of which could be directed to a different target. ''From the description, it could be a MIRV. If you are saying that from a single missile, separate warheads can be independently targeted then yes, this is significant," he said.

''But we don't know how accurate the Iranians are able to make their missiles yet, and this is a crucial point," Oppenheimer said.

Iran launched an arms development program during its 1980-88 war with Iraq to compensate for a US weapons embargo. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles, and a fighter plane.

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