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Iran test-fires longer-range missile as part of new military maneuvers
By NASSER KARIMI
The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran test-fired dozens of missiles, including the Shahab-3 that can reach Israel, in military maneuvers Thursday that it said were aimed at putting a stop to the role of world powers in the Persian Gulf region.
The show of strength came three days after U.S.-led warships finished naval exercises in the Gulf that Iran branded as "adventurist." Iran remains locked in dispute with the West over its nuclear program, which Washington says is geared to producing atomic weapons but Tehran says is only for generating electricity.
Asked about the maneuvers, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she thought the Iranians "are trying to demonstrate that they are tough."
Iranian state television reported that several kinds of missiles were tested, and broadcast footage of them being fired from mobile launchers.
"We want to show our deterrent and defensive power to trans-regional enemies, and we hope they will understand the message," the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, said in a clear reference to the United States, Britain and France, who were among the six nations that took part in the Gulf maneuvers this week.
In Israel, Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he was not surprised by the missile tests, and warned that to leave Iran unchecked would pose a risk to the world.
"Iran is following a direct line after North Korea. Therefore this problem is not Israel's but that of the entire world," Ben-Eliezer said, referring to North Korea's recent nuclear test and its frequent launches of long-range missiles.
Iran's Shahab-3 missile, which can carrying a nuclear warhead and is believed to have a range of more than 1,240 miles, is believed to be based on North Korea's Nodong missile. Iran is said to have funded the Nodong's development.
Iran, which denies obtaining missile technology from North Korea, has been testing the Shahab-3, which means "shooting star" in Farsi, since the late 1990s and publicly paraded the rocket for the first time in 2003.
The Iranian missile tests "should bother not only Israel. It should bother the Arab countries, Islamic countries, the Gulf region, North Africa and Europe. We are always warning the world about this phenomenon called Iran," Ben-Eliezer said.
Iran already has held three large-scale military exercises this year. It often uses maneuvers to test weapons developed by its arms industry.
Safavi, whose elite Revolutionary Guards conducted the missile tests, said the maneuvers that began Thursday, named "Great Prophet," would take place in the Gulf, the Sea of Oman and several provinces of Iran. He did not say how many troops were involved.
State radio quoted the air force chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Hossein Salami, as saying: "A large number of advanced missiles, different in range, warhead and kind, were successfully test fired at the same time."
State TV reported that among the rockets fired was the Shahab-2, which has a warhead that can distribute 1,400 bomblets at the same time. It also said the troops launched solid-fuel Zalzal missiles, guided missiles as well as Scud-B, Zolfaghar-73 and Z-3 rockets.
Iran has already held three large-scale military exercises this year. In its April exercises, Iran tested what it called an "ultra-horizon" missile, which is fired from helicopters and jet fighters, and the Fajr-3 missile, which can reportedly evade radar and use multiple warheads to hit several targets simultaneously.
While U.S. officials have suggested that Iran is exaggerating the capabilities of its newly developed weapons, Washington and its allies have been watching the country's progress in missile technology with concern. Last December, Israel successfully tested its Arrow missile defense system against a rocket similar to Iran's Shahab-3. The Arrow was developed jointly with the United States.
The U.S.-led maneuvers that finished Monday focused on surveillance, with warships tracking a ship suspected of carrying components of illegal weapons. The nations that took part were Australia, Bahrain, Britain, France, Italy and the United States.
The U.N. Security Council is considered imposing sanctions on Iran, which has ignored demands that it cease uranium enrichment, a process that can produce the fuel for nuclear reactors or material for bombs.