As the Obama Administration’s year-end deadline approaches for reaching a diplomatic solution to the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Tehran has opted to stoke tensions by brandishing one of its most advanced ballistic missiles. Iran’s state-controlled television network today announced that Iran had successfully tested a Sejil-2 missile, a solid fuel ballistic missile that is one of Iran’s most sophisticated weapons. The two-stage missile is believed to be more accurate and easier to launch than Iran’s liquid fuel ballistic missiles. It is one of Iran’s longest range weapons and can strike targets approximately 2,000 kilometers (about 1200 miles) away. This range is sufficient to reach Israel, Egypt, southeastern Europe, and many U.S. military bases in the Middle East.

Iranian Defense Minister General Ahmad Vahidi claimed that “Given its high speed, it is impossible to destroy the missile with anti-missile systems because of its radar-evading ability.” Vahidi may be exaggerating the missile’s capabilities for propaganda purposes. U.S. missile defense technology clearly is capable of defending against missiles with the range and speed of Iran’s Sejil-2. It is highly unlikely that the Sejil-2 will be able to evade U.S. missile detection and tracking capabilities. And the Missile Defense Agency has developed and fielded missile defense technology capable of handling countermeasures currently in the hands of Iran and North Korea. But the United States and its allies cannot afford to underestimate the growing capabilities of Iran’s rapidly improving ballistic missile force, the largest in the Middle East.

Vahidi may have been responding to reports of Monday’s announcement that the United States soon will conduct its first missile defense exercise specifically designed to simulate a long range Iranian missile attack. The head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, said that the United States would conduct a missile defense test in January that would simulate an Iranian missile attack, instead of the North Korean missile scenarios that recently have been simulated.

Iran previously has tested the Sejil-2 missile, notably, in a widely publicized media event in May presided over by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In September, Iran again publicized a Sejil-2 missile test after the revelation of a secret uranium enrichment facility near Qum. The most recent test comes after the revelation earlier this week that western intelligence agencies had uncovered secret Iranian documents indicating that Iran is working on perfecting one of the final components needed for a nuclear bomb, a neutron initiator that triggers a nuclear explosion.

Clearly, Iran’s radical regime is making significant advances in missile technology that it seeks to display to the world, at least in part to discourage international action against its nuclear weapons program, which it continues to conceal and deny despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

For more on Iran, see: Iran Briefing Room