Iran shows off new air defense system

Associated Press
A Sajjil missile is displayed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, in front of a portrait of the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a military parade commemorating the start of the Iraq-Iran war 32 years ago, in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Friday displayed a new, all-Iranian-made air defense system, saying it was designed to confront American warplanes in case of a U.S. attack on the country.

The system was on show during a military parade in Tehran commemorating the start of the Iraq-Iran war 32 years ago.

The semi-official Fars news agency said the Raad, or Thunder, is more advanced than its Russian predecessor and is designed to confront fighter jets, cruise missiles, smart bombs, helicopters and drones.

Tehran has tried to build a self-sufficient military program since 1992. More recently, Iran's military leaders have said they believe future wars will be air- and sea-based and Tehran has sought to upgrade its air defense systems and naval power in anticipation of such a possibility.

Both the United States and Israel have not ruled out a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, which the West suspects are aimed at building a nuclear weapon. It's a charge that Iran denies, insisting its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

At Friday's parade in Tehran, Gen. Ami Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Revolutionary Guard's airspace division, warned that the system was ready in case of an attack on Iran.

"This system is built with the aim to confront American warplanes," Hajizadeh said, adding that Raad carries missiles with a range of 50 kilometers (30 miles), capable of hitting targets at 22,000 meters (75,000 feet).

He also warned Israel, saying a war against Iran will lead to the destruction of the Jewish state.

"The Zionist regime is capable of starting the war" he said. "But the final moment (of the war) will be in our hands. In that case, there will be no Zionist regime anymore."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who also attended the parade, defended Iran's right to pursue a nuclear program.

"Let's the world know that Iran's great nation will defend its rights, implementation of justice and well as human dignity," he said.

Also on display at the parade were Iranian missiles Sajjil-2 and Ghadr F-1, both with a range of about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) and capable of reaching Israel, U.S. bases in the region and parts of southern Europe.

The parade took place as U.S.-led naval exercises are under way in the waters of the Persian Gulf. They are the largest such maneuvers aimed at countering sea mines ever to take place in the region.

American officials insist the exercises are defensive in nature and not directed at any particular country. But the U.S.-led drills are seen as a response to Iranian warnings earlier this year it could close the strategic oil route in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for tighter Western sanctions. Tehran has since stepped back from those threats.

Iran's chief of staff, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, said Friday the country does not feel threatened by the U.S. drill, describing it as a "refreshment" exercise for naval forces "that have not moved for months."

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