TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran announced on Tuesday that it has built a new missile with a range sufficient to put Israel and US bases in the Middle East within easy reach, amid rising tensions over Tehran's contested nuclear drive.
Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the new "Ashura" missile had a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) -- the farthest in Iran's arsenal, state media reported.
"The construction of the Ashura missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres is one of the accomplishments of the ministry of defence," Iranian news agencies quoted Najjar as saying.
"The missiles are being made in line with Iran's deterrent and defence doctrine," he added.
However, there has been considerable confusion in recent months about the capacities of Iran's longer-range missiles, seen by experts as one of its chief military assets.
At its main military parade in September, Iran unveiled the Ghadr-1 (Power), which was said to have a range of 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles).
The country's best-known longer-range missile, the Shahab-3, has been said by officials in the past to have a range of 2,000 kilometres. Yet at the military parade it was said to have only a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) range.
Some Western military experts claimed that the Ghadr-1 was no more than a Shahab-3 under a different name. It has the "baby bottle" style nose for extra aerodynamic efficiency seen on versions of the Shahab-3.
The agencies did not publish any pictures of the Ashura, which is named after the holy mourning ceremony marking the death of Shiite Imam Hossein.
Najjar added to the confusion on Tuesday by saying Iran was developing Ghadr missiles that would also have a range of 2,000 kilometres.
Iran has regularly touted the abilities of its missiles at a time of mounting tension with the West over its nuclear programme.
France, which has in recent months expressed increasing concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, said it was worried by the new longer-range missile.
"This news is a cause of concern for us, and it illustrates the need to be extremely vigilant with regard to Iran's actions and intentions," foreign ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani told reporters.
Najjar also announced that Iran had developed a new submarine named "Ghadir" after another holy day and a destroyer called "Moj" (wave), without giving further details.
The United States has never ruled out a military attack against Iran to punish its years of defiance in the nuclear crisis, even though Washington says it favours resolving the standoff through diplomacy.
Tehran has said it will never initiate any attack but has also warned it will strike back with crushing force if the United States launches an assault.
Iranian military officials have publicly threatened to hit US bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the Arabian peninsula with their missiles if Washington attacks.
"Iran will never launch an attack but if Iran is attacked we will respond with all our force against aggressors," Najjar was quoted as saying.
The commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jarari echoed that on Tuesday, adding that Tehran had "other capabilities that we believe it is our right to use throughout the region and also around the world."
In remarks on state-owned Press TV, he said "we think there is a possibility of air campaign against a number of special sites ... but if our enemies are wise, they will never even do that."
Without elaborating, he said that with the "same strategies" used by Hezbollah in the Lebanese Shiite movements summer war with Israel last year "we can nullify their (US) military superiority.
"Keep in mind that they are stationed near Iran's borders and well within the range of our different weapons."
The United States accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge that Tehran vehemently denies.
It has also vowed never to recognise Israel -- the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power -- and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the Jewish state to be "wiped from the map."
Iran is one of the few regional powers absent from a US-hosted meeting in Annapolis, Maryland that aims to kickstart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Iranian officials have expressed frustration that states such as Saudi Arabia and its ally Syria are attending the meeting.
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