TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's missile test this week demonstrated no new capabilities, according to a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence, and the test may not have included one of the longer-range missiles that Iran said was among those launched.
Iranian officials said the tests Wednesday and Thursday demonstrated a new variant of the Shahab missile with a range of 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers). Such a missile would put much of the Middle East in striking distance, including Israel, 650 miles (1,045 km) from Iran, as well as Turkey, Pakistan and the Arabian peninsula.
The tests drew immediate criticism from U.S. officials. In Eastern Europe when the launches occurred, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the missile tests underscored the need for a U.S. defensive missile system in the region.
But an independent national security blog, ArmsControlWonk.com, analyzed on Thursday video footage of the launch posted by the Iranian government. It determined the missiles were identical to a version of the Shahab missile first demonstrated in Iran in 1998 that has a known range of 746 miles (1,200 km).
In a posting called "Same old Boring Shahab 3," it compared the diameter of the missile to its length and found it to be identical to the 1998 version.
Unless the Iranians have built a larger missile with the same length to width ratio, dramatically improved the thrust of the rocket or decreased its internal structural mass, the missile could not achieve the range Iran claimed it did. Otherwise, it is the same knockoff of North Korea's Nodong-1, the blog determined.
Iran falsely claimed in February that it launched a two-stage missile that later analysis determined to be a one-stage Shahab missile, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington arms control advocacy think tank.
"Iran frequently exaggerates the capability of its missiles, and it appears it is continuing that tradition with this week's tests," said David Wright, co-director of the Union's Global Security Program.
The U.S. official who spoke about the tests said they involved eight or nine missiles, most fired Wednesday and one more early Thursday, several hours later. It was a mix of missiles ranging from medium-range to close-range battlefield rockets. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary analysis, said the models had not yet been decisively determined by U.S. intelligence.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the test is being taken seriously and was an attempt to destabilize the region.
"We don't believe this exercise to have been an illusion," he said Friday. Still, he added, "They were not testing new technologies or capabilities, but rather firing off old equipment in an attempt to intimidate their neighbors and escalate tension in the region. That is not the way to win the trust and confidence of the international community."
Tehran staged the missile tests as a show of strength in response to a recent Israeli military exercise.
An Iranian government photograph showing a cluster of missile launches apparently was altered to add a fourth missile lifting off from a desert range.
"There's no doubt the photo was doctored," said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation Program for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The image, posted Wednesday on Iran's Revolutionary Guard Web site, showed four missiles moments after launch, leaving trails of glowing exhaust and clouds of billowing brown dust.
U.S. officials have also raised questions about the video footage, saying it looks remarkably similar to previous tests.