Tehran, Iran — Iran test-fired nine missiles Wednesday, including ones capable of hitting Israel, making a dramatic show of its readiness to strike back if the United States or Israel attacks it over its nuclear program.
The launches sparked strong U.S criticism and a jump in oil prices - underlining fears Iran might seal off the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf waterway through which 40 percent of the world's crude passes, if military conflict does break out.
The tests of the long- and medium-range missiles did not appear to mark a significant advance in Iran's missile capability - similar ones have been tested previously.
But the timing and location were clearly aimed to send a message, coming as Iran has sharply stepped up the tone of its warnings of retaliation if attacked.
This week, a top official of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Ali Shirazi, warned Tel Aviv would be "set on fire" in any Iranian retaliation.
The tests took place amid a military exercise that Iran has been conducting in the Hormuz strait, where Tehran has threatened to block oil traffic in response to any U.S. or Israeli military action.
Iran has long warned it would strike back for any attack against it. But it has sharpened its rhetoric since Israel's military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean in June for a large military exercise that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
The Pentagon on Wednesday studied intelligence on Iran's latest missile test to figure out exactly what was launched and what it shows about Tehran's missile capabilities.
The White House called on Iran to refrain from any more tests. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the tests were more evidence of the need for the U.S. missile defense system.
It will remain unclear how significant the test was until it is fully analyzed, said Defense Department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the ongoing assessment.
Analysts said an early assessment showed that U.S. tracking systems detected seven missile launches, including a version of Tehran's longer-range Shahab-3, which officials have said has a range of 1,250 miles. Intelligence analysts were studying data from radar, satellites and other tracking systems to determine the distance it traveled, look at its accuracy and so on, one official said.
Gates said he hadn't been informed whether the test showed a capability beyond what the U.S. already has seen from Iran.
Nevertheless, he said: "I think this certainly addresses the doubts raised by the Russians that the Iranians won't have a longer-range ballistic missile for 10 years to 20 years.
"The fact is they've just tested a missile that has pretty extended range."
Analysts assessed that the launches were part of what they called "troop training." That is, the test came during Iran's "Noble Prophet" exercise - an exercise also held twice in 2006, each time including multiple missile launches.
One defense official said it appeared to be the latest volley - a "tit-for-tat" - in recent escalating threats and counter-threats between Israel and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.
The Israeli military last month held a military exercise that some officials suggested was practice for the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities; the U.S. and allies on Tuesday ended a five-day exercise on protecting oil infrastructure in the Persian Gulf.
Gates said that while there is a "lot of signaling going on" with the rising rhetoric, he said he does not think the U.S. is closer to a confrontation with Tehran.
And he repeated that the Bush administration strategy is to focus on "the diplomatic and economic approach to dealing with Iran," rather than using military force.
Iran says the program is for energy and the U.S. and others allege it is to develop nuclear weapons.