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Missile test by Iran alarms Israelis, U.S.

SHARE Missile test by Iran alarms Israelis, U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran test-fired the Shahab-3 missile Saturday, Tehran television reported, the second trial in two years for the medium-range weapon capable of reaching Israel or U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

The state broadcast said the test was in line with Iran's "policy of strengthening its defense capability on the basis of the principle of deterrence."

"This test is not in any way a threat to another country," the broadcast quoted an unidentified military source as saying. The Defense Ministry refused to comment on the report.

In Israel, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh expressed concern Saturday about the missile test "because Iran actively and relentlessly undermines the peace process through various terrorist organizations."

"When such a regime has a long-range capacity combined with a tremendous effort to combine it with nuclear projects, it's of great concern to Israel," Sneh told The Associated Press. He added, without giving details, that Israel "is prepared to forestall" the dangers of Iran's weapons technology.

"The power of the Israeli army and strengthening Israel through peace agreements are the true answer to Shahab-3," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement released at Camp David by his spokesman.

Later Saturday, a senior Israeli military intelligence official said that though this is the first time Iran has the capability to reach Israel, "it's not an immediate threat."

"At this rate, Iran will have the beginnings of a nuclear capability by 2005 and will have viable bombs by 2010," the official said. He accused Russia of helping Iran develop the missiles.

The Clinton administration has said missile threats from "states of concern" such as Iran and North Korea necessitate the development of a controversial, multibillion dollar national anti-missile defense system.

In Washington, U.S. officials said Saturday that Iran's reported test-firing of a medium-range missile underscores long-standing concerns about the risk of weapons proliferation in the Persian Gulf region.

The officials said Iran's effort to boost its missile capabilities threatens the area and undermines nonproliferation efforts.

A State Department official said the United States would continue its "very extensive efforts to stop the proliferation of missile technology and equipment to Iran."

Western military experts earlier said the missile had failed its first test in 1998, exploding seconds after launch, a claim Iran repeatedly has denied.

Iran says the Shahab-3 is a ballistic missile, with a range of 800 miles, and that it can travel at a speed of 4,320 mph with a 1-ton warhead.

Iran is believed to have received missile technology from Russia, China and North Korea, a claim Tehran has denied. The Shahab-3 is believed to be based on North Korea's No Dong ballistic missile.

Iran also is working on the long-range Shahab-4 rocket that it says will be used only to carry satellites into space — not for military purposes.