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Sunday, 16 July, 2000, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
Anxiety over Iranian missile launch
Shahab-3 missile
Iran's missile has the range to hit Israel - but is it really a threat?
Iran's successful test-firing of an upgraded version of a medium-range ballistic missile has prompted concern and anger in Israel and the United States.

The missile has a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) , making it capable of striking Israeli territory, but Israeli newspapers on Sunday were divided over whether the weapon posed an immediate threat.

The Shahab-3 is modelled mainly on North Korea's Nodong-1, and has been improved with Russian technology.

Facing a Western embargo since the war against Iraq, Iran's strategy is to copy and develop military hardware.

In a brief announcement, Iranian TV quoted the Defence Ministry as saying "the missile has been developed for defence purposes and poses no threat to any country in the world".

Press concern

Nevertheless, Israel's newspapers and radio reflect a general nervousness after the launch. Yedi'ot Aharonot described it as a "real cause for concern".

The real response should come in the shape of international cooperation on the political level

Yedi'ot Aharonot

"The real problem is which people have their fingers on the trigger of those weapon systems in Iran, the only state in the world that publicly declares that Israel is a target for elimination," the paper writes.

"The military response that Israel is building vis-a-vis the potential Iranian threat is concentrating on a long-range airborne arm and on the Arrow missile. The real response to the Iranian capability should come in the shape of international cooperation on the political level," the paper concludes.

Questions over threat

Ma'ariv points out disagreement among security officials over the gravity of the Iranian threat.

"One senior military source categorically rejected claims that Iran is not Israel's enemy," the paper says.

And the liberal Ha'aretz writes: "At this stage, Iran does not have the capability to arm the missiles with non-conventional warheads, such as chemical or biological weapons. However, this will be a future possibility."

"Israeli sources believe that Iran will reach nuclear capability near the middle of this decade, and the Shahab-3 is not considered an immediate threat," Ha'aretz says.

Iran's perspective

In a harsh commentary on Sunday, Iranian TV condemned Israeli and US criticism of the missile launch.

"Once again, the efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran to augment its defensive capability have generated hostile reactions in Washington and Tel Aviv and have led to propaganda by America and the Zionist regime against Iran"," it said.

"These regimes, possessing weapons of mass destruction, are well known in the world, and have repeatedly carried out assaults against other countries."

But most Iranian newspapers touched only briefly on the story. The conservative Jomhouri Eslami as well as the moderate Hamshahri and reformist Bahar all stressed the Defence Ministry's line that the missile was launched to upgrade the defences of the country "in line with its policy of deterrence".

Iranian state media said the weapon was test-fired to ensure it conforms to the latest technological standards. It was first tested in 1998.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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