Iran has tested two short-range missiles in a show of force just two days after the US and its allies warned Tehran over a newly revealed nuclear facility it had been secretly constructing.
General Hossein Salami, the head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said the missiles successfully hit their targets on Sunday and Iran had perfected its short range missiles to defend itself from any attacks.
"We are going to respond to any military action in a crushing manner and it doesn't make any difference which country or regime has launched the aggression," state media quoted him as saying.
The missile tests, fired during military exercises scheduled to last several days, are likely to exacerbate tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear programme.
Iran stages regular military manoeuvres in strategic Gulf waters, showcasing its long- and medium-range missiles as well as other weaponry.
But analysts say the timing of the latest missile tests indicated a show of force in the face of the international condemnation over the erstwhile secret nuclear facility.
'Show some muscle'
Tehran carried out the missile tests now "to show some muscle, show some strength, and say the game is not over for Iran yet", said Alex Vatanka, a senior Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's.
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany, are scheduled to meet in Geneva to discuss Tehran's disputed atomic programme on October 1.
"They felt going into these meetings next week that they needed to have something else to bolster their position, and I think that Iran's Revolutionary Guard showing a bit of military muscle here is part of that," Vatanka said.
Sunday's launch, involving the Tondar and Fateh 110 type missiles and a multiple launcher, according to state media, did not involve missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.
New nuclear site
It comes two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was building a second uranium enrichment plant, drawing condemnation from Western leaders.
The suspected nuclear site in the arid mountains near the city of Qom is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard, according to a document sent by the White House to US legislators.
After the strong condemnation from the US and its allies, Iran said on Saturday it would allow UN nuclear inspectors to examine the site.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, welcomed the announcement by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, that Tehran would grant access to the IAEA.
"It is always welcome when Iran makes a decision to comply with the international rules and regulations, and particularly with respect to the IAEA," she said.
But Clinton also said the US does not believe Iran can convince world powers at the forthcoming Geneva meeting that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, putting Tehran on track for tougher sanctions.
|The suspected nuclear site is in the arid mountains near the city of Qom [AFP]
The Iranians must "present convincing evidence as to the purpose of their nuclear programme. We don't believe that they can present convincing evidence, that it's only for peaceful purposes, but we are going to put them to the test," Clinton told the CBS programme Face the Nation.
Western powers, along with Israel, suspect Iran wants to use its nuclear technology to make weapons, but Tehran says it just want to produce electricity.
Israel has trumpeted the latest discoveries as proof of its assertion that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
"The revelation of the secret Iranian facility also demonstrates to even the most sceptical people the evil intentions of Iran," said Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister.
"Iran's ongoing military manoeuvres, including the last one and all their missile tests, are a huge challenge to the international community," he added in an interview with Israel's Channel 10 on Sunday.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, who returned from a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Saturday, said the disclosure of the nuclear facility was a success for Iran.
"This issue was turned around in a way that we believe they regret bringing it up," he said.
"They may pursue this issue through the media but it has become a firm blow to their arrogance," Ahmadinejad said in reference to the United States and other Western powers, he said.
By US estimates, Iran is one to five years away from having nuclear weapons capability, although US intelligence also believes that Iranian leaders have not yet made the decision to build a weapon.
Iran is also suspected of developing ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, but Washington said last week that it believed the effort has been slowed.
That assessment paved the way for the decision by Barack Obama, the US president, to shelve his predecessor's plan for a missile shield in Europe, which was ostensibly aimed at defending against Iranian ballistic missiles.
General Salami said the military would test medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles on Sunday night and a longer-range Shahab-3 missile on Monday, as part of the military exercise.