IRAN: Revolutionary Guard to conduct war games amid heightened nuclear tensions
Iran's Revolutionary Guard will start three days of war games on Thursday in the Persian Gulf and specifically the Strait of Hormuz, officials announced in a move that will likely add to already rising tensions in the region.
The Revolutionary Guard's second-in-command, Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, told state television the drills were intended to "highlight the constructive and positive, influential and determining role of the Islamic Republic in securing this region" and should not be seen as a threat to Iran's Arab neighbors.
Many countries, including the United States, conduct war games in the Persian Gulf. But the timing of this latest drill by Iran comes at a particularly tense time, not only between Iran and Israel and the West, but between Iran and some of its Arab neighbors.
In addition to Arab states' objections to Iran's nuclear program and sponsorship of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah in Lebanon, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed this week called Iran's control over Gulf islands claimed by the Emirates a "shameful occupation," according to the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National.
News of the war games also follows a heated Iranian response to Washington's new nuclear policy, which the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently described as an "implicit atomic threat" and a "black spot on the U.S. government's record."
Iranian military commanders described the upcoming drill as anything but routine. Adm. Ali Reza Tangsiri, one of the commanders overseeing the exercise, was quoted by the Fars News Agency as saying the goal of the war games was to improve capability and response time in case of an attack, including the use of medium- and short-range ship-to-ship and land-to-sea missiles and the creation of a plan for using Basij forces in any military response.
"The IRGC will firmly stand against those who intend to threaten the independence, security and territorial integrity of our country," read a statement issued by the force.
Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, the defense and armed forces logistics minister, reportedly said the latest drills, called the Great Prophet 5 Naval Maneuver, are intended to establish "maximum security" in the region.
But he also rejected Western news reports that Iran's missiles could reach the United States within a few years. "We do not have any such plans," he said. "But the Islamic Republic has many capabilities and implements them as per its policies."
The new nuclear strategy outlined by President Obama rules out the use of nuclear force against non-nuclear states, with the exception of "outliers" such as Iran, which the U.S. accuses of refusing to fully cooperate with the international community over its nuclear program.
The U.S., Israel and the West accuse Iran of enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon. Tehran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Israel, a presumed nuclear weapons power that claims Iranian nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, has threatened to take action into its own hands, with or without international support.
Photo: Clergymen watch a missile during 2006 war games. Credit: Fars News Agency via Agence France-Press