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Iran missile tests U.S. mettle

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Despite assurance by an unidentified Iranian military source that Iran's test-firing of a medium-range missile "is not in any way a threat to another country," the recent show of military might was unsettling.

It underscores long-standing concerns about the risk of weapons proliferation in the Persian Gulf region, the development of weapons of mass destruction and assembly of the means to deliver them. It adds fuel to the debate over the development of the United States' controversial, multibillion dollar antimissile defense system.

The timing of the test was also troubling, given the ongoing peace talks at Camp David between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. The ballistic missile tested by Iran has a range of 800 miles, rendering it capable of striking Israel and U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh denounced the test "because Iran actively and relentlessly undermines the peace process through various terrorist organizations."

Some in the U.S. Department of Defense have surmised that Iran's recent missile test shows its determination to build longer-range weapons of mass destruction. This demonstration illustrates the legitimate threat posed by "states of concern" such as Iran and North Korea.

Iran is believed to have received missile technology from Russia, China and North Korea, but Tehran has denied such claims. The missile that was test fired, 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.

This test should spur on work to establish a national anti-missile defense system. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen is expected to make a recommendation to President Clinton next month, and Clinton will make a determination on the next step for the proposed anti-missile system later this year.

Absent approval of the anti-missile defense system, the Iranian missile test was yet another reminder that the United States and its allies must be ever vigilant in terms of military intelligence and other defense strategies.

Yes, the Cold War may be over but the specter of weapons proliferation by rogue nations is a legitimate threat that will require state-of-the-art technology to monitor and, if necessary, defend against.