Tehran turns up the pressure with more missile tests

Iran successfully test-fired what it described as two long-range missiles yesterday, flexing its military muscle in the face of mounting Western pressure over its nuclear programme.

The announcement came at the climax of 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, during which Tehran warned that it could shut the Strait of Hormuz, a key passage for world oil supplies, if sanctions were imposed on its crude exports.

The military activity, including the disclosure of a medium-range missile test on Sunday, follows the US President Barack Obama's approval on Saturday of tougher sanctions to penalise Iran for its nuclear research programme. The weekend also saw the announcement of the country's success in producing its first nuclear fuel rod, a technological feat that few thought Iran was capable of.

Analysts say Tehran's increasingly strident rhetoric is aimed at sending a message to the West that it should think twice about the economic cost of putting further pressure on the country.

The US and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve the Islamic state's nuclear row with the West. However, Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's minister of strategic affairs, played down the military impact of Iran's announcement yesterday, saying Tehran's forces were no match for the West's.