Iran threatened to fire long-range missiles at American targets in the Middle East yesterday as the war of words between Teheran and the West continued to escalate.
A senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard, the largest component of the Islamic republic’s armed forces, chose this moment to outline the capability of his country’s ballistic missiles.
The Shahab-3 rocket has a range of 1,250 miles, allowing it to strike an array of Western targets across the Middle East.
“Today the Americans are around our country but this does not mean that they are encircling us. They are encircled themselves and are within our range,” said Gen Mohammed Hassan Koussechi.
“If the United States is saying that they have identified 2,000 targets in Iran, then what is certain is that it is the Americans who are all around Iran and are equally our targets,” he told the official IRNA news agency.
Gen Koussechi added: “We have reached capacities that allow us to hit the enemy at a range of 2,000 kilometres.”
A wide array of possible targets faces Iran across the Gulf. Dubai, filled with Western companies, tourists and expatriates, is only 105 miles away.
Iran’s armed forces already occupy Abu Musa, an island claimed by the United Arab Emirates, 40 miles from Dubai.
Other potential targets include the oilfields in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, the headquarters of America’s Central Command in Qatar and the main harbour of the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus is also in range.
Tension over Iran’s nuclear programme is now building. Teheran continues to defy three UN resolutions by enriching uranium, which could produce the essential material for a nuclear bomb.
Later this month, America will probably seek the Security Council’s support for a new resolution imposing more sanctions on Iran.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has toughened France’s approach towards Teheran, with Bernard Kouchner, his foreign minister, giving warning at the weekend that the world should “prepare for the worst and the worst is war”.
Teheran responded yesterday by accusing Mr Sarkozy of being an American stooge.
Iran is enriching uranium using centrifuges. It aims to install 3,000 at the underground nuclear plant in Natanz.
Once it has succeeded — and the technical barriers are formidable — Iran would need about one year to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reached a new agreement with Iran designed to lay to rest any fears that Teheran is developing a nuclear bomb.
But Western diplomats say the IAEA agreement contains one flaw — it does not specify that Iran must stop enriching uranium. However, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, said that any talk of war was “hype”. He added: “People need to bear with us.”
“¢ American forces yesterday captured 12 Iraqis who they accuse of smuggling weapons from Iran. The men, who were detained in Baghdad, had prepared and stockpiled an especially lethal variety of roadside bomb, said the US military.