TEHRAN - Iran launched a missile with a range of close to 2,000 km (1,200 miles) on Wednesday and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Islamic state could send any attacker to hell, official media reported.
The stated range of the surface-to-surface Sejil 2 missile would be almost as far as another Iranian missile, Shahab 3, and analysts say such weaponry could put Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf within reach.
Ahmadinejad announced the launch in a speech on the same day that a powerful clerical watchdog body signaled the official start of campaigning for next month's presidential election by approving him and three rivals as candidates.
The hardline president's main challengers in the June 12 election are moderates advocating detente with the West.
But a Western military expert saw Wednesday's missile launch as Iran's response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington this week, during which he has underscored the Jewish state's worries about Iran.
Every time they do it, it is in response to a particular event, Andrew Brookes, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies think-tank in London, said of Iran's latest display of its arms capability.
The launch is likely to arouse further concern in the West and Israel about Iran's military ambitions. The United States and its allies suspect the Islamic Republic is seeking to build nuclear bombs. Tehran denies the charge.
The Sejil 2 missile, which has an advanced technology, was launched today ... and it landed exactly on the target, the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
Ahmadinejad was speaking during a rally in the northern Semnan province, where IRNA said the launch took place. State television said it was a test and showed footage of a missile soaring into the sky, leaving a vapor trail.
U.S. President Barack Obama is seeking rapprochement with Iran after three decades of mutual hostility. But, like his predecessor George W. Bush, he has not ruled out military action if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the nuclear row.
Israeli leaders have raised U.S. concern by hinting at pre-emptive strikes if they decide diplomacy has failed. Israel is widely assumed to be the only Middle Eastern nuclear power.
Iran has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests and America's ally Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for world oil supplies.
Ahmadinejad said Iran had the power to send to hell any military base from where a bullet was fired against it.
He singled out Israel, which Iran refers to as the Zionist regime and does not recognize: Right now the Zionist regime ... threatens Iran militarily with its false threats and the Iranian nation should know that it is just theater.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Iran was able to reach Europe as well his country: If anyone had any doubt, now it's clear to all that Iran is playing with fire.
Brookes said Iran's missiles were perfectly good enough to go and cause a problem to Israel or elsewhere in the region.
Iran previously test-fired a Sejil missile last November, describing it then as a new generation of surface-to-surface missile. Washington said at the time that the test highlighted the need for a missile defense system it plans to base in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter threats from rogue states.
The Obama administration is reviewing the missile shield project for cost effectiveness and viability, though he has said Washington would continue to research and develop the plans.