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Iran unveils 'robot bomber'

Promises 'hard and extensive response' if Israel attacks

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The Iranian government has unveiled what it claims is a robotic bomber with enough range to - almost - reach Israel. The announcement came amid a flurry of statements promising dire retribution in the event of any attack on Iran.

"The Karar bomber drone has numerous capabilities, namely having a long operational radius", defence minister Brigadier-General Ahmad Vahidi told official news outlets at the weekend.

"The jet-propelled unmanned plane can also gain altitude," the general reportedly added.

Iran's state-controlled Press TV news service says that the Karar has a "flight radius" of 1000km, and that it "is capable of carrying a military payload of rockets to carry out bombing missions against ground targets".

Speculation regarding a possible Israeli strike against Iran has intensified lately as former US ambassador to the UN (and noted hawk) John Bolton said last week that Israel had only "days" left in which to hit Iran's Bushehr reactor before it would be fuelled up by Russia. Bolton's thinking was that once the reactor was fuelled, the possibility of a radiological release would prevent any action.

The Bushehr reactor does have some relevance to nuclear weapons, as spent fuel from the plant could be processed to yield weapons-grade material once it has been in operation for a while - though Russia says it will receive all spent fuel from Bushehr under its deal with Iran.

Most analysts regard the Bushehr plant as unimportant compared to Iran's own uranium-enrichment facilities, however, which could yield material for nukes on a shorter and more certain timescale. Some of these are buried deep underground in hardened bunkers: others have been kept secret at times from the international community. It's far from certain that Israel would actually be able to take out such sites as the Natanz centrifuge farm, or that having done so it would have got them all. Bushehr, despite Mr Bolton's warnings, might very well be ignored altogether in favour of other and more significant locations.

Actually penetrating Iranian airspace, as opposed to destroying the plants, should be well within Israel's capability. Russia has agreed in principle to sell Tehran advanced S-300 missile systems that would make this much more difficult, but as yet these don't appear to have been delivered - despite some not-very-convincing claims by Tehran earlier this year. It's also worthy of note that Israel made an apparently successful strike into Syria three years ago despite the presence of advanced Russian air-defence hardware.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the idea of an Israeli attack at the weekend, but added that if there was one Iran would strike back by unspecified means.

"Israel is too weak to stage a military strike against Iran, but if it attacks, it will receive a devastating response, which will make it regret its aggression," he told al-Jazeera on Sunday.

"We ... will give a hard and extensive response to any country willing to play with fire and making illogical actions against Iran," defence minister Vahidi added today, unveiling Iranian production lines for fast-attack vessels.

The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval forces also stated that his ships were "twice as fast on average" as American warships, and that the seagoing Guard have "substantially boosted our deterrence and destruction capabilities”. ®

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