Pentagon brushes off reported Iranian missile tests
Iran officials said the military test-fired at least four anti-ship missiles into waters near the Strait of Hormuz Tuesday and also boasted of developing a new hunter-killer drone in an effort to show off the regime’s ability to retaliate if attacked.
The supposed missile launches and the drone announcement came as the U.S. and allied navies carried out anti-mine exercises in the Persian Gulf. Defense Department officials confirmed the launches but played down their significance.
“I don’t think this is ringing any alarm bells here but we take it seriously,” said George Little, the chief Pentagon spokesman.
The show of strength also came a day ahead of an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who told Western reporters on Monday that Iran was “fully ready” to defend itself against attacks by Israel and the U.S. against its hardened nuclear sites.
In Tehran, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said the new Shahed-129 (Witness-129) drone had a range of about 1,250 miles, putting Israel within reach, and could carry out reconnaissance missions or attack with “bombs and missiles,” Iran’s Fars news agency reported.
Hajizadeh said the new missile was developed solely by Iranian engineers. In the past, Iran has engaged in reverse engineering from the drones of other nations to produce to its own models.
The U.S. has been concerned that Iran would develop a long-range drone based on the technology from the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone that reportedly went down in Iran last December while flying a surveillance mission out of Afghanistan.
In a separate announcement, Iran said that four anti-ship missiles were fired at a practice target floating in the Persian Gulf and sank the target in less than a minute. Pentagon officials said that U.S. radars picked up on the launchings, but they could not confirm that a target had been sunk.
Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, the Iranian navy commander, did not identify the type of missiles but said they were fired by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to Iran’s Press TV.
Fadavi also said that Iran was closely monitoring the U.S. and allied anti-mine exercises and keeping a “moment-by-moment watch on every move of the Americans.”
“Over the past years, we have not neglected to enhance our naval capabilities, particularly in the field of mines, and these capabilities are unimaginable to the Americans,” Fadavi said.
“I think there’s an elaborate game of chicken and display being played out there” in the Persian Gulf by Iran and the U.S, said Gideon Rose, a National Security Council official in the administration of former President Bill Clinton.
“I don’t see this escalating by itself” into a conflict, “but I could be wrong,” said Rose, now a Mideast specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations.