Iranian officials claimed the tests Wednesday and Thursday demonstrated a new variant of the Shahab missile that had a range of 1,250 miles. Such a missile would put much of the Middle East in striking distance, including Israel
- as close as 650 miles from Iran - as well as Turkey, Pakistan and the Arabian peninsula.
The tests drew immediate criticism from U.S. officials. In Eastern Europe during the launches, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the missile tests underscored the need for a U.S. missile shield in the region.
But an independent national security blog, ArmsControlWonk.com, Thursday analyzed video footage of the launch posted by the Iranian government. It determined the missiles were identical to a version of the Shahab missile first demonstrated in Iran in 1998 that has a known range of 746 miles.
In a post called "Same old Boring Shahab 3," it compared the diameter of the missile to its length and found it to be identical to the 1998 version.
Unless the Iranians built a larger missile with the same length to width ratio, dramatically improved the thrust of the rocket or decreased its internal structural mass, the missile could not achieve the range Iran claimed it did. Otherwise, it is the same knockoff of North Korea's Nodong-1, according to the blog.
Iran falsely claimed in February that it launched a two-stage missile that later analysis determined to be a one-stage Shahab missile, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington, D.C. arms control advocacy think tank.
"Iran frequently exaggerates the capability of its missiles, and it appears it is continuing that tradition with this week's tests," said David Wright, co-director of the Union's Global Security Program.
The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence said the Iranian tests involved eight or nine missiles
- most fired on Wednesday and one more several hours later early Thursday. It was a mix of missiles ranging from medium-range to close-range battlefield rockets. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary analysis, said the exact models had not yet been decisively determined by U.S. intelligence.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the test is being taken seriously, and was an attempt to destabilize the region.