x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Iran 'flexes its muscles' with new missile tests

Iran test-fires three short-range missiles as part of war games exercises just days after it is revealed the Islamic republic is building a second uranium enrichment plant.

TEHRAN // Iran test-fired three short-range missiles yesterday as part of war games exercises just days after it was revealed the Islamic republic was building a second uranium enrichment plant. Brig Gen Hossein Salami, the air force commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, told reporters that Iran's missiles were not a threat to neighbouring countries. "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's website quoted Gen Salami as saying.

He said Iran would test-fire a long-range missile today that has a range of 1,300km to 2,000km, capable of reaching Israel. The state-owned Press TV broadcast footage showed missiles being fired in desert terrain. On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was building a second uranium enrichment plant, sparking concern among western leaders. The announcement 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.

The timing of the missile tests has been widely interpreted as an Iranian show of force in the face of international criticism over the secret facility. Tehran carried out the missile tests "to show some muscle ... and say the game is not over for Iran yet", said Alex Vatanka, a senior Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's. Iranian hardliners say the revelation demonstrates Iran's ability to take the West by surprise and called the existence of the new facility "a winning card" that Tehran can use to increase its bargaining power during the Geneva talks.

In an interview with state-run television yesterday, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, stressed that the Qom plant would not be different from the one already in use in Natanz except that it would be more immune to military attacks. Dismissing the existence of nuclear plants in other parts of the country, Mr Salehi said Iran was capable of producing nuclear fuel even if world powers tried to limit its ability to do so.

msinaiee@thenational.ae with additional reporting by the Associated Press