TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran showed footage of missiles on Wednesday it warns could reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Middle East, but military analysts said the damage they could wreak was limited and not enough to deter any would-be attacker.
Iran’s real ability to hit back against any U.S. or Israeli strike may lie in less conventional tactics than a missile salvo, the analysts say.
The Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles and said they were ready to retaliate if the country’s foes launched military strikes over its disputed nuclear activities, state media reported.
The televised display of its firepower appeared designed to demonstrate for the world and ordinary Iranians that it could and would respond to any attack.
“This is the Iranians saying: ‘We can match you if it comes to that’,” said Andrew Brookes of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank in London.
But, he added, the “possession of some rockets” was not going to stop Israel from going ahead if it felt it must bomb Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms.
Defense analyst Paul Beaver said Iran’s missile program was fairly advanced but that it still needed to get accuracy and guidance systems right for long distances. “They are some way away yet from threatening Israel or U.S. bases,” he said.
Speculation that Israel could strike Iran has mounted since its air force staged an exercise last month that U.S. officials said involved 100 aircraft. The United States has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear row.
Iran may fire the missiles if it were attacked but its “real strength lies elsewhere,” Pieter Wezeman, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Analysts say Iran could employ unconventional or “asymmetric” methods to strike back, for example against U.S. forces in Iraq and by disrupting crude supplies vital for the world economy with hit-and-run attacks against oil tankers.
Israel, believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, has vowed to prevent Iran from building an atomic bomb.
Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, insists its nuclear ambitions are purely directed at generating electricity.
The state Press TV said the “highly advanced” missiles tested included a “new” Shahab 3 missile, which officials have said could reach targets 2,000 km (1,250 miles) away. Iran has previously said Israel and U.S. bases are in its range.
Brookes said he did not believe Israel could attack Iran on its own because of the distances involved and its dispersed nuclear sites, but he made clear Iran’s arsenal of missiles would not be a key factor for decision-makers in Jerusalem.
“A few missiles dropping is neither here or there in the calculus,” Brookes said by telephone from London.
An aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader was quoted as saying on Tuesday that his country would hit Tel Aviv, U.S. shipping in the Gulf and U.S. interests in reply to any military strike.
But Wezeman said he did not believe that Iran had many Shahab 3 missiles in stock or that they could cause major destruction.
Iran’s military says it has thousands of missiles lined up against pre-determined targets, but does not give a breakdown.
Wezeman said the missiles were not that accurate and also carried a limited payload: “I don’t think it is really going to impress Israel that much as long as they (Iranians) use conventional warheads,” he said.
Editing by Samia Nakhoul