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Friday, September 22, 2006

Iran warns of 'lightning' response to any attack

Iran has warned Western powers the armed forces would hit back "like lightning" against any attack as it crowed over its military prowess and showed off firepower at a major army parade.

Thousands of members of the armed forces and the whole panoply of Iran's ballistic missile arsenal were on display at the parade, including the Shahab-3, a weapon whose range includes arch-enemy Israel.

"We want peace but we warn the expansionists not to think of an aggression against Iran as we can defend the fatherland and Islam," Vice President Parviz Davoodi warned.

"Our lions are so powerful that they can strike the enemy like lightning and destroy him," he added.

The comments of Davoodi -- standing in for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has yet to return from a visit to the United Nations in New York -- come at a time of mounting tension over Tehran's contested nuclear programme.

The United States has never ruled out using force to make Iran comply over its atomic drive that Washington charges is aimed at making nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for civilian energy purposes only.

Iran has also never been shy of warning it would retaliate if the Islamic republic was attacked and the parade included its longest-range missile, the Shahab-3, which has the range to hit Israel and US installations in the Middle East.

"Are you not proud to see the Shahab-3, a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles)?" boomed the commentator over the loudpeakers as two green Shahab-3s were driven past the parade ground on the back of a truck.

The missile was up until last year believed to have a range of 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) but Iran has worked on extending its range. The newest version of the missile -- with a bottle-shaped warhead -- was not displayed.

The missiles appeared to lack the anti-Israeli and anti-US slogans that were daubed on the weapon at last year's event and caused European diplomats present to stage a walk-out in protest.

A succession of other missiles were also on display, including the short-range Fajr-5 and the medium-range Nazeat-6 and -10, Shahab-1 and -2, and Zelzal-2.

Thousands of soldiers clutching their rifles marched past Davoodi and other dignitaries to the sound of martial music in an event that has become Iran's most significant annual display of its military might.

The parade, which marks the anniversary of the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, took place just opposite the mausoleum built for Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the outskirts of Tehran.

"Our armed forces have no need for their power to be based on atomic weapons, this power is based on our convictions," said Davoodi, restating Tehran's denial of US allegations it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Davoodi also played up the importance of major war games that Iran has staged in the past month which have seen it claim the development of new missiles and warplanes.

"In the recent manoeuvres the armed forces showed their power, notably in the areas that were once the monopoly of the great powers," said Davoodi.

However foreign experts have expressed scepticism over the significance of such announcements owing to the embargo on the purchase of new weaponry imposed by several nations on Iran in the wake of the Islamic revolution in 1979.

The parade included more ageing hardware, including Russian T-72 and British Chieftain tanks whose original metalwork was visible through the repainting as well as 30-year old American Dodge military trucks.

And while the United States remains the Islamic republic's sworn enemy, the police motorcycle brigade was still led by a red Harley Davidson Electra Glide.

"We will resist until the end," proclaimed a slogan on the main grandstand erected for the parade, which coincided with a march to Beirut by supporters of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah to mark its resistance against Israel.

Among the thousands of armed forces personnel marching past the main grandstand were ethnic minority members of Iran's Basij militia in their national dress, including Kurds, Baluch, and for the first time Arabs.

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