TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fired missiles carrying cluster warheads to shouts of “God is the greatest” at the start of 10 days of military maneuvers on Thursday, state television reported.
Tehran had said the maneuvers, dubbed “The Greatest Prophet” and which will include drills in the Gulf and Sea of Oman, were to demonstrate “defensive strength.”
Days before, the United States had led naval exercises in the Gulf to practice blocking the transport of weapons of mass destruction.
A military expert said Iran probably wanted to show off home-grown technology and said the missile did not seem to represent a new strategic threat.
Tensions between Iran and Western powers are high as the latter try to agree a draft U.N. sanctions resolution aimed at forcing Tehran to scale back atomic work they fear may be used to make bombs. Iran says its aims are purely peaceful.
“Dozens of missiles were fired, including Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles. The missiles had ranges from 300 km (190 miles) up to 2,000 km (1,240 miles),” Iran’s main state television channel reported.
Footage showed six missiles, which television said included Shahabs, being fired from mobile launchers and leaving long vapor trails as they soared into the air above the desert near the holy city of Qom in central Iran.
As they rose, Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards who gave the firing order, and other Guardsman were heard shouting: “God is the Greatest.”
A reporter for the Arabic-language Al-Alam television, also state-owned, told Reuters by telephone from the launch site that the Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles launched on Thursday had been installed with cluster warheads.
State TV said the cluster warheads could carry 1,400 bombs.
LAND, SEA AND AIR
“What they mean are sub-munitions which are very small. And if they’ve got 1,400 in the warhead that means they are very small,” Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, told Reuters.
Iran had announced months ago they were working on a warhead that would deliver such bomblets, he said, adding that such technology was mainly useful against personnel but did not amount to a new strategic threat.
“I guess they see it as a new type of warhead that gives them another option,” he said. “The message is look we can do most things and our technology is constantly improving.”
Experts say Iran’s Shahab-3 missiles have a maximum range of some 2,000 km, making them capable of hitting Israel as well as U.S. military bases in the Gulf. They say the Shahab-2 missile has a range of up to 700 km.
Iran’s maneuvers follow U.S.-led naval exercises involving 25 nations in the Gulf on Monday to train forces to block the transport of weapons of mass destruction and related equipment.
U.S. officials accuse Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, of planning to equip its missiles with nuclear warheads. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is aimed at making electricity not bombs.
Safavi had said the latest war games would comprise drills by ground, air and naval forces, including submarines, mainly in the Gulf and Sea of Oman.
The Revolutionary Guards, the ideologically driven wing of the armed forces which has a separate command structure from the regular military, held war games in the Gulf in April in which they tested new missiles, torpedoes and other equipment.
Analysts interpreted those exercises as a statement that Iran could disrupt vital oil shipping lanes if pushed by an escalation in the dispute over the country’s nuclear program.
(With additional reporting by Peter Graff in London)