Iran's recent test firing of a medium range ballistic missile is raising more concerns about the country's proliferation efforts, especially in light of its alleged efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
Experts say the latest test is part of Iran's effort to improve the accuracy of a missile capable of reaching Israel as well as U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf. But Andrew Koch, Washington bureau chief of "Jane's Defense Weekly", thinks the test of this medium range Shahab three missile amounted to more of a political statement by Iran than a real display of new capabilities.
"It was a missile of the same range and type and capability as missiles that Iran already has deployed so in many ways it didn't really move the bar much in terms of Iranian capability," he explained. "What it did do was answer in a political context a recent Israeli claim that its Arrow missile ballistic missile defense system would be effective against these Iranian missiles."
Two weeks ago, the United States and Israel conducted what the Pentagon said was a successful test of an Arrow missile, part of a missile defense system specifically designed to protect the Jewish state from threats posed by countries such as Iran.
Still, for the Pentagon, experts say Iran's efforts to upgrade its missiles have taken on added concern in light of its nuclear activities, and a U.S. defense intelligence official tells VOA this latest missile test is yet another cause for worry. It comes only a week after the Iranian government said it would resume efforts to build centrifuges, required for enriching uranium.
"They really have a potential wildcard here in the same vein that they're watching North Korea," said Retired Marine Colonel Jay Farar, a former aide to the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff. "The concern obviously for the military command responsible for that region of the world, Central Command, is that they are going to be dealing with another potential nuclear power. The fact that they're also developing and testing more capable delivery means starts to put them in the realm that you find Pakistan and India in."
Iran maintains its missile program is for purely defensive purposes and its nuclear efforts are for civilian use. Iran denies Bush administration accusations that it is working to build nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told American television Sunday the United States would use all the tools it has to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
"I think you can not allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon. The international community has got to find a way to come together and to make certain that that does not happen," she said.
But what the international community is willing to do is far from certain. Given their huge amount of trade with Iran, European nations have been seen as reluctant to place the country under United Nations sanctions.