Irans missile buildup seems aimed at Israel

LONDON — Iran's defense minister, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, has pledged that Iran's military power will not be directed at any Arab state, suggesting instead that its military build-up is intended to confront Israel.

In an interview last week with the Saudi-owned weekly al-Wasat, Shamkhani said that Iran's military power is "part of the capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds."

"It is certainly not directed against the interests of the Arab states," he said. "On the contrary, it adds to the strength of the Islamic world in facing the enemies of the Arab and Islamic nations."

Asked why Iran was building up its military muscle, increasing its arms procurements, deploying three Russian-built submarines and developing its missile program, Shamkhani replied: "You would notice that no other country has been as bullied or threatened as Iran. Israel, for instance, menaces Iran more than it menaces any other country."

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, said in Tehran that Israel constitutes the main danger to peace.

"Armed with a stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the Zionist regime is a major threat to the regional countries as well as others," he said Saturday in a speech quoted by Associated Press.

Attending a Defense Ministry exhibit, Khatami devoted much of his speech to encouraging the army to keep building up the country's defenses and to stay out of political factionalism.

Iran successfully test-fired the Shihab-3 missile last month, which has a range of 800 miles.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Friday of last week that within two to five years Iran will deploy the more sophisticated Shihab-4, which will have a range of some 1,250 miles and be capable of carrying a non-conventional payload.

While the Shihab-3 is based on North Korean know-how, the new missile will be based exclusively on Russian technology.

In his interview with al-Wasat, however, Shamkhani denied any secret military cooperation or arms-purchase agreements between Iran and Russia: "We cooperate with Russia in the open and there are no secret agreements between us," he said.

"We have had to turn East because of the Western arms embargo and our need to develop our defensive systems…But we do not seek to acquire any of the non-conventional weapons," he said.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said, the United States had shifted its hostility to Iran: "Washington wants to paint us as the region's monster." Shamkhani also said he believed a military strike against Iran by the United States or Israel was "unlikely in the foreseeable future." But he did not believe a resumption of ties between Tehran and Washington was imminent.

"At the moment, this is unlikely. I don't expect an early resumption of relations. America does not want to bury its aggressive aims and hegemonistic policies," he said.

Khatami, in his remarks Saturday, praised the test-firing of the Shihab-3 missile, saying it showed trade sanctions have not prevented Iran from developing its armed forces.

He said his country was opposed to nuclear weapons and supports a ban on weapons of mass destruction.

"I unequivocally state that driven by our Islamic values and humanitarian principles, we are against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," he said.

"We shake the hands of all governments and benevolent forces in the promotion of peace and in removing such weapons from the entire world."