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Iran Tests More Medium-Range Missiles In Attempt To Show Strength

A ballistic missile is launched at an undisclosed location in this handout photo released by Fars news on March 9.

Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has tested ballistic missiles for the second straight day in an attempt to show strength and in defiance of U.S. warnings.

The IRGC fired two missiles, Qadr-H and Qadr-F, from the heights of the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency reported. The missiles traveled 1,400 kilometers before hitting their targets on the country's southeastern coast, Tasnim added.

The March 9 tests came a day after the IRGC said it tested ballistic missiles from several silos in different parts of the country.

They followed the January implementation of a nuclear accord requiring Tehran to significantly restrict its sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

Analysts believe the Islamic republic is demonstrating that it will not be held back in its missile-development program.

Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL that the tests were aimed at "reassuring…the hard-liners that despite accepting some limits [on the nuclear program], limits were not accepted on the missile program, and it's going full guns."

He also said that the new tests did not appear to violate a United Nations Security Council resolution that barred Iran from developing missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.

"Iran would be able to say that these missiles that it is testing were not so designed. Others might question that. But I think as a legal matter, Iran would not be found to be in violation," Fitzpatrick said.

Planning For 'Real War'

The fresh missile tests follow February 26 elections in which hard-liners were dealt an embarrassing blow by moderates, who made gains in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts that could choose Iran's next supreme leader.

Ali Vaez, a senior Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the IRGC was making it clear that Iran's strategic goals remain unchanged.

"What the IRGC is trying to do is to signal after each moderate victory -- be it the foreign-policy win achieved with the nuclear deal or the domestic boost after recent elections -- that Iran's strategic priorities have not and will not change," Vaez said.

"It is unrealistic to expect Iran to give up on its missile capability -- considered the country's sole meaningful deterrence -- when the U.S. continues arming Iran's neighbors to the teeth," Vaez added.

Hard-line news agencies Fars and Tasnim, both with ties to the IRGC, claimed that the missiles were inscribed with the phrase, in Hebrew: "Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth."

The head of the IRGC's aerospace program, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, suggested that the tests sent a message to Israel.

"The reason we have designed missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers, is to be able to hit our remote enemies, the Zionist regime," Hajizadeh was quoted by Tasnim as saying.

"There is no need to fire missiles to destroy the Zionist regime [as] it will gradually collapse. Our main enemy is America," he added.

Hajizadeh stressed that Iran was not willing to start a war. "We will not be the ones who start a war, but we will not be caught by surprise, and we've planned everything for a real war," he said.

Alex Vatanka, a senior Iran analyst at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the provocative Iranian move appeared to be aimed at impressing an Arab audience, particularly given Tehran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Numerous Arab states have sided with Washington and Turkey in pushing for Assad's exit from power in the war-torn country.

"It is a desperate attempt by the Iranian regime to keep itself relevant in the Arab streets, he said. "After what the Iranians have done in Syria, which made their popularity nose-dive across the Arab world, they're desperate to see what else they can do in terms of renewing efforts against Israel to make themselves, if not popular, do some damage control."

'Unacceptable Threat To Israel'

Iran conducted the tests as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Jerusalem for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fiery critic of the nuclear deal between Tehran and major world powers.

Biden did not directly react to the missile tests. But he renewed Washington's warning that Tehran will not be allowed to access nuclear weapons.

"A nuclear-armed Iran is an absolutely unacceptable threat to Israel, to the region, and the United States. And I want to reiterate -- which I know people still doubt here -- if in fact they break the deal, we will act," he said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, meanwhile, said that Washington was reviewing reports of Iran's additional ballistic-missile tests.

"We will continue to redouble our efforts with our allies and partners in the region to try to limit Iran's ability to continue to develop their missile program," Earnest told reporters on March 9.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Secretary of State John Kerry had expressed "his concerns" over the reports of the missile tests in a telephone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on March 9.

Kirby said a day earlier that Washington could take unilateral action "to counter threats from Iran's missile program."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican, condemned Iran's missile tests but also criticized the Obama administration's response.

"Instead of forcefully condemning Iran's dangerous missile tests, the White House is twisting itself into pretzels to explain how they don't violate the president's deeply flawed nuclear deal," Royce said in a statement.

"If Iran sees it can violate UN missile sanctions with no consequence, it will violate this nuclear deal, too," Royce said.

"President Obama must lead and aggressively enforce all sanctions against Iran's missile programs, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses. No more looking the other way," the statement added.

U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton said she was deeply concerned about the reports of Iran's firing of multiple missiles.

In a statement, Clinton said: "Iran should face sanctions for these activities and the international community must demonstrate that Iran's threats toward Israel will not be tolerated."

In January, the United States announced new measures against individuals and entities involved in Iran's ballistic-missile program.

Tehran says its missile program is for defensive purposes.