Important new Iranian missile test near, U.S. general says

June 2, 2000
Web posted at: 10:17 p.m. EDT (2217 GMT)

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Outcome of earlier test uncertain

New rocket has longer range

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iran appears poised to re-test a missile that may have the range to strike Israel, Turkey and parts of Russia, the commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf told CNN Friday.

The new test of the "Shahab-3" missile should occur in the next few months, according to Marine Gen.Anthony Zinni, the outgoing U.S. Central Commander.

He predicted the test would leave no doubts as to its success, unlike an earlier test-firing.

Zinni said Iran is anywhere from one to seven years away from developing a nuclear bomb, depending on whether it can acquire certain materials abroad or has to develop its own.

Either way, it's just a matter of time before Iran has a nuclear bomb and the rocket that can deliver it to faraway nations, Zinni said.

"A successful test of the Shahab-3 will be a major watershed event in terms of delivery capability," he said.

Outcome of earlier test uncertain

Iran's first-known test of the medium-range ballistic missile occurred in July 1998. The rocket exploded or was detonated by remote control shortly after launch, either due to a problem or because Iranian scientists were satisfied with the rocket's performance.

Initially, U.S. intelligence analysts said the rocket's test was not fully successful. But experts who later examined initial technical data reportedly concluded that the test was actually successful, according to the Web site of the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based think tank on defense issues.

Since that test, Iran has been working on the missile, which is believed to have a range of 800 miles (1300 kilometers).

Gen. Zinni expects the next test "should be, by all accounts, successful."

"This will be a major step because it gives them a missile system that can reach out and touch places like Tel Aviv," he said.

New rocket has longer range

Iran is also working on a longer ranger version called the Shahab-4, with an estimated range of 1,200 miles, long enough to reach Western Europe.

In the past, the Pentagon has called the threat from a new Iranian missile "serious, but not immediate," noting the missile was still in its testing phase and had not been deployed.

A March 1998 report issued by the U.S. Congress said the "development of medium-range ballistic missiles by potential adversaries such as Iran... constitutes a serious threat to United States forces, allies and friends in the Middle East... and cannot be adequately countered by currently deployed ballistic missile defense systems."

Iran has said Washington is against its missile development program as part of its alliance with Israel, to prevent Iran from defending itself from hostile neighbors.

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

Federation of American Scientists

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