Iran tests missile able to hit Israel and Saudi Arabia Medium-range weapon bought from North Korea could tip balance of power

July 23, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Iran successfully tested a medium-range missile yesterday that is capable of hitting Israel and Saudi Arabia, a senior Clinton administration official said last night.

The weapon, with a range about about 800 miles, could alter the political and military balance of power in the Middle East.

"This weapon would allow Iran to strike all of Israel, all of Saudi Arabia, most of Turkey and a tip of Russia," said the senior Clinton administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other officials said a U.S. spy satellite detected the launch yesterday, and that intelligence analysts were poring over data about the missile, which they believe Iran bought from North Korea. The officials are certain Iran successfully tested the missile, but could not provide information on the launch site or the impact area, except to say both were in Iran.

A former intelligence official familiar with the spread of weapons of mass destruction said: "The major reaction to this is going to be from Israel and we have to worry what action the Israelis will take, because the Israelis clearly view the Iranians as their main threat in the Middle East."

Israel is the only nuclear power in the region, and its missiles are believed to be capable of striking any nation in the Middle East.

Iran is trying to develop a nuclear warhead, but is believed to be years away from building and testing such a weapon.

Present and former intelligence officials said the missile came from North Korea, which has vowed to continue selling weapons to any nation that can provide it with much-needed hard $H currency.

Iran has long sought to launch a medium-range missile, and has bought technology from Russia and China as well as North Korea. Tehran's goal, a senior Clinton administration official said, was not to strike its enemies but to be viewed as a political and military force to be reckoned with in the Middle East.

"There is some prestige element here," he said. "We have long thought that the Iranians believe that such a weapon would give them a reach inside the region and that they believe that it serves their interests in terms of being a strong power in the Middle East."

The former intelligence official said U.S. analysts had expected a test by Iran, but were unsure of the timing. "My guess is, they purchased a very small number of these missiles, and that this is as much a political statement as anything, and that the statement is to Israel, and that statement is: 'You are now vulnerable. You have to take us seriously.' "

He added: "I don't think the Iranians are threatening the Saudis here. They want to co-opt the Saudis, not threaten them."

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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