, TEHRAN, Sept 27 – Iran test-fired three short-range missiles on Sunday as the Islamic republic began war games shortly after the UN nuclear watchdog disclosed it was building a second uranium enrichment plant.
Hossein Salami, air force commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, said Monday would also see a test-firing of a long-range missile which Iran says has a range of 1,300-2,000 kilometres (800-1,240 miles), capable of reaching arch-foe Israel.
"Tomorrow we will test the long-range Shahab-3 missile," he told state television.
He also told reporters, without elaborating, that the Guards had tested a "multiple missile launcher for the first time" on Sunday. Later in the day, Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 medium-range missiles would be test-fired.
Iran’s Fars news agency said the multiple launcher could fire two missiles aimed at separate targets simultaneously.
Salami said Iran was also now capable of firing missiles from mobile launchers.
"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 him as saying.
Dismissing Israel as a potential threat, Salami said: "That regime is not in a position that we need to comment about threats from it."
He said Iran has "increased the precision of our missiles … Hopefully, these missile tests will contribute to our deterrent and defensive capabilities."
Salami said the Guards will not launch any new type of missile during the exercise which is expected to last several days, but he added that Iran "has boosted the number of missiles and can contain long-term missile conflicts."
Earlier, state media reported that the three short-range missiles fired on Sunday were of the Tondar-69, Fateh-110 and Zelzal versions.
All three weapons, powered by solid fuel, have a range of between 100 and 400 kilometres (60 and 250 miles).
State-owned Press TV broadcast footages of sand-coloured missiles being fired in desert terrain.
Iran’s manoeuvres come after US President Barack Obama earlier this month scrapped his predecessor George W. Bush’s plan to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and a powerful tracking radar in the Czech Republic by 2013.
He said he had decided to replace the shield with a more mobile system using mainly sea-based interceptors.
In taking the decision, Obama emphasised the threat of Iran’s short-range and medium-range missiles instead of the potential danger of its longer-range weapons.
The White House said the intelligence community now believed Iran was developing shorter-range missiles "more rapidly than previously projected," while progressing more slowly than expected with intercontinental missiles.
US ally Israel, most Arab states and parts of Europe — including much of Turkey — are within range of the Shahab-3.
Over the past two years, when Bush was still in office, Iran stepped up work on its ballistic missiles, testing a more advanced solid-fuel medium-range missile, and also said it had successfully put a satellite into orbit.
Iran has in the past threatened to target US bases in the region and to block the strategic Gulf Strait of Hormuz waterway for oil tankers if its nuclear sites are attacked.
Israel and the United States have never ruled out a military option to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, which they suspect of having a military aim despite Tehran’s denial.
On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was building a second uranium enrichment plant, sparking concern by Western leaders.
Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said the new plant on the road from Tehran to the holy city of Qom would operate under IAEA supervision.
The disclosure of the new plant’s existence came just days before an October 1 meeting in Geneva between Iran and six world powers to discuss Tehran’s disputed atomic programme.
Amin Sabooni, executive editor of the English-language Iran Daily, said it was just a "coincidence" that the missile drills were taking place amid the latest nuclear controversy.
"I don’t read much into it. It is just a coincidence that the tests are being done at a time when there is unnecessary noise from the West" over the new atomic plant, he told AFP.