State television announced the deployment of the Shahab-3 missile after successful tests of the weapon. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was shown attending a military parade where at least one Shahab-3 was on display.

“Today our people and our armed forces are ready to defend their goals anywhere,” said Khamenei. “This divine force has answered all threats and we are witnessing today that this divine force is now doing the same for the Lebanese and the Palestinian people,” he said. 

The head of the Revolutionary Guards Yahya Rahim-Safavi said in a speech that his force was now “ready to defend Iran against any threat”.

More weapons

Khamenei: Iran ready to 
confront "the enemy"

Earlier this month Tehran said it had successfully completed tests on the Shahab-3. Analysts believe it is based on the North Korean Nodong-1 missile but has been improved with Russian technology.

The range of Shahab-3 is about 1,300 km.

Russian-built Sukhoi SU-25 Frogfoot close-support aircraft, attack and transport helicopters were also handed over on Sunday to the Revolutionary Guards, which is separate from Iran’s regular army and reports directly to Khamenei.

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman David Saranga said the new missile represented a threat to the region.

Israel broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1979 following the fall of the Shah during the Islamic revolution.

Pressure

Iran is under mounting pressure about a nuclear energy programme which Washington alleges may be a front for a bid to make atomic arms. Tehran categorically denies the charges and says its nuclear facilities are geared to producing electricity.

The news of the Shahab-3 came as Tehran continued to deny reports that United Nations inspectors had found enriched uranium in environment samples taken in Iran.

This satellite file shows a uranium
enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran

Diplomats have cautioned that the presence of enriched uranium could be the result of contamination.

Western reaction

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair said concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions would not lead to another war in the region, after Washington occupied neighbouring Iraq.

“But we must apply a lot of pressure on them,” added Blair.

Switzerland’s ambassador to Iran, Tim Guldimann, who represents US interests in Tehran, said in an interview published on Sunday that the Islamic republic felt threatened by the close proximity of other nuclear states such as Pakistan and Israel.

Iran has so far resisted calls for it to agree on tougher nuclear inspections, arguing it wants access to nuclear technology in return.

However, Guldimann said there were signs that Iran would eventually agree.

“It looks like progress could be achieved in the months ahead,” he said.