Washington, which accuses Tehran of seeking nuclear arms, said after Iran test-fired nine missiles on Wednesday there should be no more such tests if Iran wanted the world’s trust.
US leaders have not ruled out military options if diplomacy fails to assuage fears about Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is only to produce electricity.
Israel, long assumed to have its own atomic arsenal, has sworn to prevent Iran from emerging as a nuclear-armed power. Last month it staged an air force exercise that stoked speculation about a possible assault on Iranian nuclear sites.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday he favoured the use of diplomatic pressure and sanctions, but added: “Israel is the strongest country in the region and has proved in the past it is not afraid to take action when its vital security interests are at stake.”
Iran has vowed to strike back at Tel Aviv, as well as US interests and shipping, if it is attacked, asserting that missiles fired during war games under way in the Gulf included ones that could hit Israel and US bases in the region.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on a visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia that no one should be confused about Washington’s commitment to protect its allies.
“We are also sending a message to Iran that we will defend American interests and... the interests of our allies,” she said after meeting Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Rice said a planned US missile defence shield, to be partly based in the Czech Republic and Poland, would dampen any threat of an attack from Iran. Russia opposes the project.
“We also are able to look to the future of a missile defence system that will make it more difficult for Iran to threaten (and) and be bellicose and say terrible things because their missiles won’t work,” said Rice.
Iranian state TV and radio said the Revolutionary Guards — the ideologically driven wing of Iran’s armed forces — had fired ground-to-sea, surface-to-surface and sea-to-air missiles overnight. Long-range missiles were also launched.
“The manoeuvre brings power to the Islamic Republic of Iran and is a lesson for enemies,” Guards Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying.
Iran has threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for Gulf oil exports, if it is attacked. Yesterday’s exercises involved divers and speedboats, as well as the launch of a high-speed torpedo called Hout, state media said.
Commenting on Iran’s Gulf manoeuvres, Kuwait said it hoped wisdom would prevail on all sides. “The region has had enough of continuous wars,” Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khaled Jarallah was quoted by state news agency KUNA as saying.
On Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, he said: “We hope it does not come to this.”
The missile tests rattled global oil markets, pushing up the price of oil. Crude prices have dipped in recent days but have hit a series of record highs this year, partly on Iran tensions.
China urged restraint in the row over Iran’s nuclear plans, but did not echo Western rebukes over the missile firings.