A missile believed to have been fired by Iran struck the southern coast of Kuwait on Friday, hitting an area close to that tiny sheikdom’s oil-exporting facilities in the Persian Gulf.
A Kuwaiti Defense Ministry statement said that there were no injuries or damage in the attack, which took place before dawn Friday. The attack did not endanger U.S. naval forces in the region, officials said.
Sources in the gulf region and in Washington said that the projectile was one of the Silkworm anti-ship missiles that Iran is known to have acquired from China. Still other sources in the gulf speculated that it was a Soviet-made Styx missile, a device of the same design as the Silkworm. Iran is known to have seized a quantity of Styx missiles in its 7-year war with Iraq.
Other developments in the tense Persian Gulf situation Friday included:
-- The Italian government, responding to an Iranian gunboat attack on an Italian vessel, sought approval from Parliament to send naval forces into the gulf to protect its shipping there.
-- Iraq announced that its warplanes attacked another “large maritime target,” which usually means a tanker, off Iran. There was no confirmation of such an attack from any independent source in the region. Iraq also said in a communique that its warplanes had hit three Iranian oil fields near Avhaz.
-- The U.N. Security Council formally approved a Persian Gulf peace mission by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who said he plans to visit Iran within the next two weeks in an effort to persuade the Tehran government to accept a Security Council resolution adopted last month that calls for a cease-fire in the lengthy Iran-Iraq War. (Story on Page 4.)
Said to Be Silkworm
Shipping sources and government officials in the gulf, all speaking privately, identified the missile that struck Kuwait early Friday as a Silkworm. That would make Friday’s the first known use of the Silkworm in the Persian Gulf conflict. The Silkworm has a range of about 50 miles and can carry about 1,000 pounds of explosives.
In Washington, Pentagon officials refused to confirm the missile attack, but Middle East expert Mazher Hameed, citing U.S. intelligence sources, said that Iranian forces on the Al Faw Peninsula fired one or two Chinese-made Silkworm missiles at Kuwait early Friday.
Hameed, director of the Middle East Assessment Group in Washington, said that one missile was identified as a Silkworm from its Chinese markings.
“It has been well-known for some time that the Iranians have Silkworm emplacements in Al Faw,” Hameed said. Al Faw is at the northern end of the gulf in Iraqi territory captured by Iran in February, 1986.
Oil Terminal in Range
Kuwait’s principal city and its oil terminal are within range of Al Faw-based Silkworm missiles.
In Santa Barbara, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said in response to questions about the attack: “I don’t think it signifies any significant change. We can’t even confirm it was a Silkworm, and there have been a number of other missile firings by Iran during the war.”
Here in the gulf region, some sources speculated that the missile striking Kuwait might have been a Soviet-made Styx surface-to-surface device. When Iran captured the Al Faw area from Iraq, it also seized a large number of the Styx missiles that the Soviet Union had supplied to the Baghdad regime.
Several Styx missiles captured at Al Faw were fired at Kuwait from Iranian-held territory earlier this year, causing distress in Kuwait but no damage.
Similar to Silkworm
The Styx has the same design as the Silkworm.
Iran is reported to have deployed a number of Silkworms near the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, about 500 miles southeast of Kuwait.
For its part, Iran implicitly denied Friday that it had fired a missile at Kuwait.
Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani of the Iranian Parliament said at a Tehran prayer meeting: “A long-range missile was fired today and it hit the southern shore of Kuwait. It is the second missile that has been fired (at Kuwait). The type of missile and the direction it came from is not known. It is easy for them to find out . . . but they don’t want to. We believe it is something done by those people (the United States) to make the situation worse and more tense in the Persian Gulf in order to become more involved.”
Tensions in the gulf have been on the rise since last Saturday, when Iraq once again began a series of air raids on Iranian shipping and oil terminal facilities after a 45-day lull.
Pressure on Iran
The renewed Iraqi attacks were seen as part of an effort by Baghdad to force Iran to accept a cease-fire in the war, which began in September, 1980.
During the past week, Iraq has claimed to have hit 13 Iranian ships and to have carried out numerous raids against economic and industrial targets inside Iran. After the most recent of the latter attacks Friday, Iraqi and Iranian news agencies reported scores of civilians killed and wounded but gave conflicting reports about the targets struck.
Iraq said its warplanes raided three Iranian oil fields while Iran said the raids were against “civilian locations.”
Since Iraq resumed its attacks, Iran has retaliated by striking at civilian shipping in the gulf serving the Arab side of the waterway. Iran maintains that Iraq’s allies in the war can be fairly attacked by Tehran because they supply funds to Iraq and allow transshipment of arms to the Baghdad regime.
Iran has tended to single out tiny Kuwait as a key Iraqi ally and has sponsored terrorist attacks in the sheikdom as well as launching attacks against Kuwaiti shipping.
The Kuwaitis have been pressing the international community to take action to force Iran to accept the cease-fire order from the U.N. Security Council.
Times staff writer John M. Broder contributed to this story from Washington.