Iran raises tensions with a show of strength
A stealth flying boat, a radar-evading missile with multiple warheads, a rocket-torpedo and an anti-ship missile that cannot be jammed: with every day that passes, Iran announces a development in its military hardware.
The flurry of technological achievements, shown in grainy television footage, coincides with a large naval war-game in the Gulf codenamed "Great Prophet".
The exercises around the Straits of Hormuz, through which two fifths of the world's oil passes, are seen in the West as "sabre-rattling" as Teheran faces concerted international pressure to halt its widely suspected attempt to develop a nuclear arsenal.
Western officials say the Iranians are trying to tell the West - especially America and Israel - that they can strike back against any attempt to bomb their nuclear facilities.
Iran could, for example, try to disrupt the shipping of oil through the Gulf, and threaten Israel with a growing array of missiles.
"The aim is political and rhetorical rather than military," said one British source. "I would not put any money on the Iranians' kit if it came to a contest with the American military." The clerical regime also wants to impress on the Iranian public that it remains powerful despite American attempts to destabilise it.
Moreover, it seeks to stoke national pride by claiming the weapons as home-produced, even though they are mostly based on Russian, Chinese and North Korean technology.
"There is no doubt that there is a certain amount of bravado in what is coming out of Teheran," an Israeli official said. "But there is enough substance in some of the stuff they have been talking about for us to be concerned.
"We know that they have been working on multiple warheads. They are very serious about developing their delivery systems."
Iran announced last Friday that it had successfully test-fired a missile that could avoid detection by radar and deliver multiple warheads to hit several targets.
General Hossein Salami, the air force chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, hailed the development of the Fajr-3 (Dawn-3) missile as the achievement of "a remarkable goal".
But Ivan Oelrich, vice-president of the Federation of American Scientists, said: "It is conceivable they have a multiple warhead capability but this is not very sophisticated. Though three missiles heading for the same target makes it harder for missile defence, the warheads will not have their own guidance systems and the missiles will carry a lower payload. It would be difficult to target effectively with them."
On Sunday Iran announced another success: the launching of "the world's fastest underwater missile", travelling at about 195 knots, or three times faster than the fastest western torpedo.
General Ali Fadavi, deputy naval commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said the weapon could overcome sonar systems because of its speed and its movement underwater. Weapons experts said it appeared to be a Soviet rocket-powered torpedo known as the Shkval.
However, it cannot track a target and has a range of less than four miles. A former commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet, Admiral Eduard Baltin, said Iran's torpedo announcement was little more than a bluff.
"Shkval has no target designation devices. That is, it is not a self-homing torpedo. Besides, it leaves a trail, which makes it easy to spot and destroy," he said.
Undeterred, Iran yesterday announced the launch of a surface-to-sea missile known as the Kowsar. According to Iranian television, it can evade radar and its guidance system cannot be scrambled.
Television also showed footage of a "super-modern flying boat," a strange one-man craft that looks like a cross between a seaplane and a stealth fighter.
State television said that the single-propeller seaplane could launch a missile and "because of the hull's advanced design, no radar at sea or in the air can locate it".
The commander of the Revolutionary Guards, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, said Iranian forces were able to "confront any extra-territorial invasion".
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