TEHRAN — Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard said it successfully test-fired short-range missiles Sunday in drills meant to show Tehran is prepared to crush any military threat from another country.
The display of force comes days after the U.S. and its allies warned Iran over a newly revealed nuclear facility it was secretly constructing.
Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said Iran had perfected its short range missiles to make them more accurate in tactical battlefield situations and defend the country 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 Salami as saying. He said the missiles successfully hit their targets.
The tests came two days after the U.S. and its allies disclosed that Iran had been secretly developing a previously unknown underground uranium enrichment facility and warned the country it must open the nuclear site to international inspection or face harsher international sanctions.
The missiles tested weren't the kind that can carry a nuclear warhead. Iran is developing such ballistic missiles, but the U.S. believes that effort has been slowed.
But the timing of the missile tests has been widely interpreted as an Iranian show of force in the face of the international storm of criticism over the secret facility.
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. He noted that Iran will be meeting with the Western powers in Geneva next week.
"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," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she doesn't believe Iran can convince the U.S. and other world powers at the upcoming meeting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, putting Tehran on a course for tougher economic penalties beyond the current "leaky sanctions."
The Iranians must "present convincing evidence as to the purpose of their nuclear program. 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 CBS' "Face the Nation."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates arguing that pressuring Tehran economically and diplomatically would have a better chance of changing the Tehran government's policies than military strikes against the nuclear site.
"The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time," he told CNN's "State of the Union" in an interview broadcast Sunday.
The nuclear site was revealed in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom and is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard, according to a document sent by President Barack Obama's administration to lawmakers.
After the strong condemnations from the U.S. and its allies, Iran said Saturday it will allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine the site.
Israel has trumpeted the latest discoveries as proof of its long-held assertion that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
"The revelation of the secret Iranian facility also demonstrates to even the most skeptical people the evil intentions of Iran," said Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister.
"The Iran's ongoing military maneuvers 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 Sunday.
By U.S. estimates, Iran is one to five years away from having nuclear weapons capability, although U.S. intelligence also believes that Iranian leaders have not yet made the decision to build a weapon.
Iran also is developing ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, but the administration said last week that it believes that effort has been slowed. That assessment paved the way for Obama's decision to shelve the Bush administration's plan for a missile shield in Europe, which was aimed at defending against Iranian ballistic missiles.
Salami said Iran would test medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles on Sunday night and a longer-range Shahab-3 missiles on Monday, during drills set to last several days.
Iran's last known missile tests were in May when it fired its longest-range solid-fuel missile, Sajjil-2. Tehran said the two-stage surface-to-surface missile has a range of about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) – capable of striking Israel, U.S. Mideast bases and southeastern Europe.