Iran tests new jet fighters, says scares enemies

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TEHRAN, Sep 20 (Reuters) Iran said today it had ''scared its enemies'' by test flying two new generation, domestically-produced jet fighter planes and had shown its battle readiness, the latest riposte to speculation about a war over Tehran's nuclear plans.

French officials, including President Nicolas Sarkozy, have spurred talk about a possible war by saying the failure of diplomacy to resolve Iran's dispute with the West over its atomic programme could result in conflict.

The United States, which has been leading efforts to isolate Iran because it believes Tehran is trying to build atomic bombs, has said it wants diplomacy to end the standoff but has refused to rule out military options if that route fails. Tehran says its nuclear plans are geared to energy production.

Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told state TV that experts in the ministry and air force had jointly carried out research, design and production of the Saegheh warplane.

''Two Saegheh jets were tested successfully by air force pilots ... The test scared Iran's enemies,'' Najjar told state television, adding that the two jets would officially join the country's fleet of warplanes on Saturday.

Armed forces chief Ataollah (eds: correct) Salehi also said of the test flights: ''Iran, with its advanced equipment and capabilities, is fully prepared for any possible aggression.'' Iran said in September last year it had for the first time flown one of the Saegheh planes, describing it then as a modification of a warplane already in its fleet.

It did not say at the time on what plane the Saegheh was based, but images shown of its test flight suggested it might be based around a US-built F-5, a plane bought from the United States when Iran was a US ally before the 1979 revolution.

State television said the Saegheh jet was a new generation of the Azarakhsh (Lightning) fighter, which Iran said in August was now being built on an industrial scale. Tehran says it makes tanks, armoured personnel carriers and missiles and torpedoes.

''We have reached the cutting edge of designing new generation fighter jets,'' the defence minister said.

Tehran says the Saegheh has similar capabilities to the US F-18 fighter but is ''more powerful''.

Although Iran regularly says it has made major advances in its weaponry, Western experts say it rarely gives enough detail to confirm the capabilities.

The experts say Iranian weaponry, some of it modifications of equipment bought from China and others, would be no match for US technology but say Iran could still deliver a punch by hitting strategic targets, such as blocking the Gulf waterway.

An Iranian air force commander said on Wednesday Iran had plans for bombing Israel if the Jewish state attacked first.

REUTERS SKB RK1840

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