Iran tested a new anti-ship missile fired by a submarine during war games Sunday, raising worries it could disrupt vital oil tanker traffic in the Gulf amid its standoff with the West over its suspect nuclear activities.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took a tough tone over the nuclear issue, saying his country’s decision to pursue nuclear technology was irreversible.
His comments and the missile test came only days before a Thursday deadline imposed by the United Nations for Tehran to suspend the enrichment of uranium, a process the United States says the Iranians intend to use to build nuclear weapons. Enrichment can produce both reactor fuel and material for a warhead.
The Thaqeb, Farsi for Saturn is Iran’s first missile that is fired from underwater and flies above the surface to hit its target, distinguishing it from a torpedo. A brief video showed the missile exiting the water and hitting a target less than a mile away.
While the missile showed some technological advances by Iran, its main importance seemed to be that it gives the country another means for targeting ships, along with the arsenal of torpedoes and other anti-ship missiles it already has.
Iran, which says its nuclear program is only aimed at generating electricity, has refused any immediate suspension and called the deadline illegal, though it says it is open to negotiations.
Ahmadinejad insisted Iran’s nuclear program was peaceful and said he saw no reason to give it up.
‘No way back from this path’
“The great decision of the Iranian nation for progress and acquiring technology is a definite decision. There is no way back from this path,” he said in a speech on national television after giving awards to 14 nuclear officials and scientists.
He said the United States should give up nuclear technology because it could not be trusted with it, having developed and used nuclear weapons.
Israel recently purchased two German-made Dolphin submarines capable of carrying nuclear warheads — clearly aiming to send a message to Tehran that it could strike back. The purchase beefs up Israel’s deterrent power, since the subs can remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines already in Israel’s fleet.
Israel is believed to have hundreds of warheads, the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, but it has kept the information secret and refuses to confirm or deny the reports.
The test-firing of the new missile underlines a card Iran can play in the nuclear standoff with the West — the ability to disrupt oil tanker shipments in the Gulf, through which about two-fifths of the world’s oil supplies pass.
Iran has given mixed signals over how it would retaliate if the confrontation with the United States escalates. The oil minister and other government officials have said Iran would never attack Gulf tankers — but the interior minister warned in March that all options for retaliation are open and noted Iran’s strategic position over Gulf traffic.
The test took place during large-scale military exercises that Iran has been holding since Aug. 19. It was the latest in a series of new naval weapons Iran has unveiled this year to tout what it calls its new technological prowess in arms production.
The Iranian naval commander, Gen. Sajjad Kouchaki, said the Thaqeb could be fired from any vessel, not just submarines. He called it a “long-range” missile but did not specify how far it could fly, and it did not appear capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
He also said the Thaqeb could escape enemy radar — a claim Iran made about a number of weapons it unveiled during military maneuvers in April. Some outside experts have questioned whether the weapons, tested against Iranian radar, would really be undetectable to more advanced U.S. radar.
New class of sub
During the April maneuvers, Iran test-fired a new torpedo — the “Hoot,” Farsi for “whale” — which is capable of moving at some 223 mph, up to four times faster than a normal torpedo. It also unveiled a new land-to-sea missile, the Kowsar, and a high-speed missile boat that skims above the water and is undetectable by radar.
Iran is known to have several submarines. It bought at least two diesel subs from Russia in the 1990s and has produced an unknown number of locally made ones. Last year, it announced it was building a new class of sub called the Ghadir, which it said was a stealth craft and could fire missiles and torpedoes. Nothing more is known about the craft.
Iran says the weaponry is intended to defend itself against the possibility of a U.S. attack. It has also expressed worry about Israeli threats to destroy its nuclear facilities.
Iran already is equipped with the Shahab-3 missile, which means “shooting star” in Farsi, and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. An upgraded version of the ballistic missile has a range of more than 1,200 miles and can reach Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East.