US alert over Iran missiles

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The Independent Online
London - Iran yesterday appeared to confirm US claims that it had deployed Hawk anti-aircraft missiles near the Straits of Hormuz at the head of the Gulf, a vital shipping lane for the world oil market, writes Michael Sheridan.

Diplomats in the Gulf said the Hawk batteries were on the island of Sirri, allowing Iran to straddle the deep-water channel towards the straits. The Iranian Foreign Ministry, pointing to "threats of attack by the Zionist regime," said it had a right to maintain its own air defences. Western military experts said the Hawk, with a range of about 14 miles, was regarded as a defensive weapon.

General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Iranian deployment was being closely monitored, reflecting what he called international concern over a potential security threat from Tehran.

Ironically, the US supplied Hawks and spare parts to Iran in two shipments in 1985 and 1986, organised by Oliver North as part of the Reagan administration's abortive effort to ransom hostages in Beirut.

Arab diplomats see the US claim as part of a campaign to undermine Tehran and to contain its regional influence.