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The missile launched as part of large-scale military exercise in Iran yesterday is not a more capable version of the Shihab-3 ballistic missile, according to Israeli experts. Revolutionary Guard Commanders said that the nine missiles tested were medium and long-range weapons including some that are capable of striking Israel.

General Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards Air Force, claimed on Iranian television that a Shihab-3 long-range ballistic missile had been tested, which is capable of traveling longer distances, with greater accuracy, and with a larger payload.

"Our finger is always on the trigger, and our missiles are always ready to launch," he said.

However, Uzi Rubin, who was a program director of Homa, under which Israel developed the Arrow anti-missile system, is convinced that this was not a new version of the Iranian ballistic missile.

"From what I saw, this is an old version of the Shihab-3, and contrary to their claims, it is not capable of reaching 2,000 kilometers, only 1,300 kilometers," he said yesterday.

Rubin raised the possibility that a version of Shihab-3 with a 2,000 km range has still not been tested or is still not operational.

"Without being hasty, I note that the Iranians have a tendency to exaggerate to a certain extent the capabilities of their missiles," he said.

The test-firing of missiles was aimed at showing Israel and the U.S. that Tehran is capable of responding to threats against its nuclear installations.

Experts say that the Shihab-3 is based on a liquid fuel rocket that requires fueling prior to launch, a time consuming process that leaves the weapon vulnerable to being identified from the air.

But Dr. Nathan Farber of the Technion in Haifa says that the Iranians are in the process of developing a more advanced version of the Shahab, known as the Ashura, with a range of 2,000 km. According to Farber's assessment, the new missile uses solid propellants, which makes it easier to launch, although unlike the Shihab-3, its flight time to Israel is estimated at 14 minutes, compared to 11 of the older missile.

Intelligence analysts estimate that Iran has several hundred Shihab-3 in its arsenal, but a much larger stockpile, of several thousand shorter range missiles (up to 400 km) capable of targeting U.S. forces in Iraq or their allies in the Persian Gulf.

In Israel, even though the heads of the defense establishment do not often detail in public their preparations to counter a possible Iranian attack, a number of recent developments received center stage in Western media.

Most recently, a large-scale air force exercise, comprising approximately 100 aircraft, carried out a sortie to a distance of 1,500 kilometers over the Mediterranean - the same distance from Israel to some of Iran's nuclear installations in Isfahan.

The air armada included fighters, aerial tankers, electronic warfare aircraft, and search and rescue helicopters.

On a number of occasions in recent months, defense officials stressed the need to bolster the "long arm" of the IDF through the air force.

Recently retired air force chief Major General Eliezer Shkedi has called for the procurement of advanced strike aircraft, and Israel is expected to acquire F-35 stealth fighter bombers. Israel has asked the U.S. to consider moving forward the delivery date for such aircraft.

In parallel, Israel is preparing to carry out significant upgrades to the Arrow anti-missile system. The Arrow-3, which is funded in a multi-year program entitled Tefen, will be capable of intercepting ballistic missiles higher and further away from Israel.

One area in which Israel does not seem to be altering its preparations is on ways of preparing the home front for the possibility of missile strikes from Iran.

A senior officer in the Home Front Command explained this week that plans for dealing with Iran's ballistic missiles are identical to the possibility that rockets or shorter-range missiles will strike Israel from Syria or Lebanon.