Iran navy tests surface-to-air missile in drill

January 1, 2012 - 11:20 AM
APTOPIX Mideast Iran Oil

Iranian navy speed boats attend a drill in the sea of Oman, on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. Iran's navy chief has reiterated for a second time in less than a week that his country can easily close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the passageway through which a sixth of the world's oil flows. (AP Photo/IIPA, Ali Mohammadi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's navy said Sunday it test-fired an advanced surface-to-air missile during a drill in international waters near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world's oil supply.

Iran's state TV said the missile, named Mehrab, or Altar, is designed to evade radar and was developed by Iranian scientists. The report said the missile was tested Sunday but provided no further details.

A leading Iranian lawmaker said the sea maneuvers serve as practice for closing the Strait of Hormuz if the West blocks Iran's oil sales. After top Iranian officials made the same threat a week ago, military commanders emphasized that Iran has no intention of blocking the waterway now.

The exercise covers a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of water beyond the Strait of Hormuz, including parts of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

The drill, which could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels that operate in the same area, is Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its nuclear program. The West fears Iran's program aims to develop atomic weapons — a charge Tehran denies, insisting it's for peaceful purposes only.

The 10-day exercise drew significant attention after the Iranian warnings about closing the strait. Iranian military officials later appeared to back away from that threat.

A spokesman for the exercise, Rear Adm. Mahmoud Mousavi, made a similar conciliatory comment on Sunday.

"We won't disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. We are not after this," the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.

Prominent lawmaker Ismail Kowsari offered a different view. He said the war games are part of Iran's preparations to close the vital waterway if sanctions are imposed.

"Iran's armed forces have practiced operations to close the Strait of Hormuz several times," the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Kowsari as saying Sunday.

"If we feel that the enemies want to prevent our oil exports, definitely we will close the Strait of Hormuz," he said.

Mousavi said the missile that was tested Sunday is one of the newest in the navy's arsenal.

"It's equipped with state-of-the-art technology and a built-in system that enables it to thwart jammers," Mousavi told state TV. One way to deflect surface-to-air missiles is to confuse their guidance systems.