CAIRO — Iran's reported test-firing Monday of medium-range missiles that could reach Israel, Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf was a reminder of the potent military threat Tehran poses to nations seeking to derail its nuclear program.
The launches demonstrated that Tehran was capable of striking its enemies, especially Israel, which has suggested it might attack Iran's nuclear installations, and the United States, which is urging tougher United Nations sanctions against the Islamic Republic while preparing to create a shield to protect its allies from Iranian missiles.
The missiles fired Monday, the Shahab-3 and Sejil-2, were launched in the desert as part of military exercises that began before the U.S., France and Britain last week accused Tehran of building a secret uranium-enrichment plant. The U.S. and other nations suspect Tehran's nuclear program is designed to create weapons rather than energy for civilian purposes and have threatened new sanctions on Iran if international inspectors are denied access to the facility.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the missile tests again showed "the provocative nature with which Iran has acted on the international stage for a number of years" and repeated President Obama's recent demand that Tehran allow inspectors into the new site.
"There has never been a stronger international consensus to address Iran and its nuclear program than there is right now," Gibbs added.
Russian news service Ria Novosti quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying: "This is not illegal under any international agreements, but of course when missile launches are accompanied by an unresolved situation around Iran's nuclear program, this concerns us." Lavrov spoke after meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, in New York.
The Shahab-3 and the Sejil-2 have ranges of 800 to 1,200 miles. The Sejil-2 is powered by solid fuel, making it more accurate than previous generations of missiles in the Islamic Republic's arsenal.
It was not the first time these missiles were tested, but their launches as part of an exercise named the Great Prophet IV coincided with growing tension before Iran's meeting in Geneva on Thursday with representatives of the U.S. and other world powers.
Iran's Press TV reported that the missiles "accurately hit their designated targets . . . during the first and second stages of military drill in central Iran Sunday night."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said the missile tests were not a response to international pressure on Iran's nuclear program. They were, he said, part of Sacred Defense Week's annual military exercises to commemorate Iran's war with Iraq in the 1980s.
"Many countries have these [displays], and it has nothing to do with Iran's peaceful nuclear technology," he said at a news conference.
Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, was more pointed.
The general was quoted by the Iranian media as saying the tests in recent days of medium- and short-range missiles send "a message for certain greedy nations that seek to create fear, to show that we are able to give a swift and suitable answer to our enemies."
The general added, "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."
Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Times staff writer Megan Stack in Moscow contributed to this report.