TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran says it is now able to make large numbers of its medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile, which defence experts say is capable of hitting Israel or U.S. bases in the Gulf.
“We have the capability to mass-produce Shahab-3 missiles,” Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani told reporters on Tuesday at a defence industry building inauguration.
He joked that Iran could now produce the missiles like its auto industry churns out the country’s best-selling car, the Paykan. His comments, reported on several local news agencies, were confirmed by the Defence Ministry.
Iran first deployed the Shahab-3 to its Revolutionary Guards in 2003, Around six of the missiles, bearing slogans vowing to “Wipe Israel from the face of the earth” have been seen together at military parades since then.
Officials have repeatedly said in recent months they could use Shahab-3 to strike back at Israel should it try to attack its nuclear facilities.
Israel and the United States accuse Iran of developing nuclear warheads to deliver with the Shahab-3 but Iran says its atomic plants are solely for generating electricity.
Asked about Shamkhani’s comments on the mass production of missiles, an Israeli security source said: “We expected this development, and have deployed accordingly.”
He was referring to Israel’s Arrow II missile-killer, designed to counter threats like the Shahab-3.
Iran recently announced it had improved Shahab-3’s accuracy and increased its range to 1,250 miles (2,000 km).
That potentially brought parts of southern Europe within Iran’s reach. But Shamkhani said the increased range was merely so that Iran, a country three times the size of France, could launch the missile from anywhere within its own borders.
“The change in Shahab-3’s range is based on this concept, not to threaten a certain country,” he said.
He also denied accusations that Iran is developing a long-range missile with a range of up to 2,500 miles (4,000 km).
“This is what the Israelis say,” Shamkhani said. “They want to imply that we are seeking to threaten Europe, but we don’t feel any threat from Europe.”
“If we had invested in this we wouldn’t be worried about saying so. In the past seven years we have been very transparent about announcing our missile capability,” he said.
Iran insists the Shahab-3 is purely a deterrent and Shamkhani played down the likelihood that Iran’s nuclear plants would ever come under attack.
“I say with confidence that there is no possibility for such an attack. If such an attack happens its negative consequences for the attacker would be greater that the advantages.”