* Iran described blast at base as an accident
* U.S. was target of missile research - Israeli vice PM
* Alleged 10,000-km range is four times current reach
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Israel said on Thursday Iran had been working on developing a missile capable of striking the United States at a military base rocked by a deadly explosion three months ago.
The blast on Nov. 12 killed 17 Iranian troops, including an officer regarded as the architect of Iran’s missile defences. Iran said at the time the explosion at the facility, 45 km (28 miles) from Tehran, was an accident and occurred during research on weapons that could strike Israel.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, addressing Israel’s annual Herzliya security conference, challenged the Iranian account that the weapons project was focused on targeting Israel, and implied Iran was seeking to extend its strike range fourfold.
He said the base was a research and development facility where Iran “was preparing to produce or develop a missile with a range of 10,000 km (6,000 miles) ... aimed at the ‘Great Satan’, the United States of America, and not us”.
Yaalon, who is also minister of strategic affairs, gave no other details nor relate his remarks to the cause of the explosion.
Analysts currently estimate the longest range of an Iranian missile to be about 2,400 km, capable of reaching Israel and Europe. Israeli leaders are keen to persuade any allies who do not share their assessment of the risk posed by Iran that a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic would also threaten the West.
Israel has made little comment on accusations by Tehran that its agents along with those of its Western allies are waging a covert war against Iran’s nuclear programme.
Iran denies Israeli and Western allegations that it is seeking to build atomic weapons, saying it is enriching uranium to generate electricity and for other peaceful purposes.
In a Nov. 28 report on the explosion at the Iranian base, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said it had learned the blast occurred “as Iran had achieved a major milestone in the development of a new missile”.
The Washington-based ISIS, founded by nuclear expert David Albright, said Iran was apparently performing a volatile procedure involving a missile engine when the explosion took place.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pressing for stronger international sanctions against Tehran, has said repeatedly that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat not only to Israel but to the United States and Europe as well.
Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power and to have developed missiles capable of striking Iran. It has said all military options are open in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.
In his address, Yaalon, a former chief of staff of the Israeli military, was dismissive of arguments that underground Iranian nuclear sites may be invulnerable to so-called “bunker-buster” bombs.
Speaking in general terms, he said: “From my military experience, human beings will know how to penetrate any installation protected by other human beings. Ultimately all the facilities can be hit.” (Writing by Jeffrey Heller)