McCain Says Iranian Missile Salvo Proves Need For Construction Of European Missile Defense System; Obama Urges More Talks With Iran, Further Sanctions

United States Will Protect Allies Such As Israel From Attack; Gates Says Iranian Missile Has ‘Pretty Extended Range’

Iran on consecutive days test-launched salvos of medium- and long-range missiles in a newly explosive demonstration of belligerence, including a long-range missile that could reach Israel, amid speculation that Israel or the United States might use air strikes to take out illicit Iranian nuclear materials production facilities.

Further, Iran threatened Israel and the United States, saying it has a vast arsenal of missiles, with hands on triggers, ready to launch. It’s missiles may include a longer-range version of the Shahab-3.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said the Iranian outburst is further proof that the United States and Europe should move, swiftly, to construct a European Missile Defense (EMD) system to shield Europe and the United States against Iranian missiles.

But Sen. Barak Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, responded by calling for U.S. talks with Iran, along with sanctions.

Thus far, prolonged talks involving European negotiators have failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear materials production program, which Iranian leaders say is to manufacture fuel for nuclear electrical power plants, but which Western leaders say may be used to create nuclear weapons that would be placed atop Iranian missiles. Russia already has provided sufficient nuclear materials to Iran to fuel a generating station.

That Iranian mass missile launch came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg signed documents toward installing an EMD radar on Czech soil. EMD interceptor missiles might be installed in Poland, if it agrees to host them. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

Rice also warned nations such as Iran that the United States will counter any attacks on its allies, defending them. Israel is the closest and most enduringly loyal U.S. ally in the Middle East. The United States takes very strongly its obligation to defend allies, and no nation should be confused on that point, she said while in the former Soviet nation of Georgia.

Separately, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, noted that Russians and others who predicted that Iran would take 10 to 20 years to develop long-range missile capabilities were flatly wrong. And the Iranian missile salvo tests only prove the urgent need for the European missile defense system, he said.

“They’ve just tested a missile that has a pretty extended range,” Gates said. “So my view in the first instance is, we’ve been saying, as we’ve talked about missile defense in Europe, that there is a real threat. And it seems to me that the test this morning underscores that.” His comments came before the second consecutive day of Iranian missile launches.

As well, the Iranian missile salvos came after President Bush failed to persuade Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to drop his opposition to the EMD system. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

An analyst said that the Iranian missile threat is a palpable and genuine security concern, adding that Tehran poses “by far the most likely employment of ballistic missiles in the world today, and it demands our immediate attention in the event of a need for a U.S. or NATO response. This unpredictable adversary could be provoked by an isolated, and perhaps seemingly unimportant, event.” (Please see separate story in this issue.)

According to some reports, Iran is developing a missile with a 3,000-km (1,864-mile) range, sufficient to strike targets in Israel and parts of Europe.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped from the map, and that Israel soon will cease to exist. He also has denied the Holocaust ever occurred.

However, at a time when global oil markets are in disarray and crude oil prices keep soaring ever higher, Gates attempted to inject a note of calm, downplaying any expectation that Iran might actually launch a nuclear attack on Israel any time soon, or a conventional attack on Israel if it launches air strikes to take out Iranian nuclear facilities.

Any major Iranian attack on Israel would elicit a U.S. response to defend its ally.

Asked if a U.S. military confrontation with Iran is drawing closer, Gates replied, “No, I don’t think so.”

He also downplayed a U.S. Navy move to send a ship into waters near Iran.

Rather than indicating armed conflict is imminent, Gates said, “I think what we’re seeing is a lot of signaling going on” by Iran attempting to bluff Israel into not obliterating Iranian nuclear facilities.

Hot-war hostilities aren’t likely, he indicated, because “I think everybody recognizes what the consequences of any kind of a conflict would be.”

The United States is attempting to reduce tensions, Gates said, explaining that “this government is working hard to make sure that the diplomatic and economic approach to dealing with Iran — and trying to get the Iranian government to change its policies — is the strategy and is the approach that continues to dominate.”

As well, the Pentagon leader downplayed concerns that Iran is acquiring new Russian SS-20 air defense missiles that  could be used to defeat Israeli or U.S. aircraft.

“It’s highly unlikely that those air defense missiles would be in Iranian hands any time soon,” Gates said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a co-chairman and founder of the bipartisan congressional Missile Defense Caucus, roundly condemned the Iranian mass missile-launch testing and said that proves there is no time to lose in constructing the EMD system.

“We must continue to strongly encourage our friends in the Czech Republic and Poland to assure that the proposed European missile defense site becomes a reality,” Franks emphasized.

He tallied the ways in which Iran is becoming a threat to global peace.

“Iran is the most active state sponsor and exporter of terrorism in the world,” Franks noted.

“Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has continually called for the destruction of our ally, Israel; and under his leadership, the current Iranian regime continues to supply weapons, training, and expertise to insurgents and terrorists operating against our troops in Iraq.”

Many of those attacking U.S. troops or planting roadside bombs to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq have been found to come from Iran.

“As demonstrated today, Iran continues to enhance the capabilities of its ballistic missile fleet, holding U.S. interests in Southern Europe, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia at risk of an attack, and is pursuing an aggressive uranium enrichment program capable of producing fuel for nuclear weapons,” Franks continued. “The tests … underscore the Islamic Republic of Iran’s threat to global security.”

Some sharp-eyed military observers caught Iran in a lie, where it doctored a photo that accurately showed one missile in a salvo failed to launch, faking it so that in a doctored photo all four weapons in the picture appeared to lift off successfully.