Iran yesterday began a major exercise intended to test and illustrate the nation's ability to protect itself against attack, Reuters reported (see GSN, Nov. 20).
The event occurs as tensions are again rising in the standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear activities. Tehran last week appeared to reject a proposal to have much of its low-enriched uranium taken out of the country for further refinement. The plan was intended to reduce immediate fears that Iran could use the material to produce weapon-grade uranium and to allow for more time for negotiations on the nuclear issue.
The exercise is expected to last five days and involve both the Revolutionary Guard and other military personnel.
"It is the biggest war game, which takes place over an area 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles). The aim of this war game is to promote military power of the armed forces against any attack," state television quoted Brig. Gen. Ahmad Mighani as saying.
"The aim of the drill is to display Iran's combat readiness and military potentials," he added. "Defense policies, psychological operations and innovations during the war game are among the objectives of the drill" (Reuters, Nov. 22).
Iranian broadcasts yesterday showed bomb drops by aircraft, rocket firings and paratroopers climbing into helicopters, the Washington Post reported.
Both Israel and the United States have said that military force remains among their options in dealing with Iran's nuclear activities, which they worry is intended to produce weapons.
Iran, which says its nuclear activities have no military component, yesterday warned against an attack on its nuclear sites.
"If the enemy tries its luck and fires a missile into Iran, our ballistic missiles would zero in on Tel Aviv before the dust settles on the attack," said Mojtaba Zolnour, who serves as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's agent to the Revolutionary Guard (Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, Nov. 23).
Israel quickly expressed its displeasure with the war games, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"It is clear that this is now the time for the international community to act and send a crystal-clear message to Tehran that there are consequences for its actions," a high-level official said (Chip Cummins, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 23).
Tehran, meanwhile, suggested it had not yet ruled out accepting some sort of uranium deal, the Post reported.
"The main issue is how to get a guarantee for the timely supply of fuel which Iran needs" for a medical research reactor in Tehran, said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency. "We are ready to have negotiations with a positive approach, but because of a lack of confidence with the West, we need to have those guarantees" (Erdbrink, Washington Post).
Another Iranian official today reaffirmed the government's stance that it would only accept an exchange of uranium within its borders, Agence France-Presse reported.
"No fuel is supposed to leave Iran," said Ali Bagheri, deputy to top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.
"One of the ways to guarantee the supply of fuel for the Tehran reactor is the simultaneous exchange of the 3.5 percent fuel for the 20 percent inside Iran," he said (Agence France-Presse I/Spacewar.com, Nov. 23).
U.S. President Barack Obama said last week that Washington and its allies are considering new sanctions against Iran. However, there is not likely to be intent consideration of new U.N. penalties until 2010, officials told the New York Times.
The uranium offer "may never be taken off the table," one official said (Steven Erlanger, New York Times, Nov. 20).
"We would prefer that the Iranian regime follow through on the opportunity to engage," U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said yesterday during a security conference in Halifax, Canada.
"If persuasion doesn't work, pressure is going to have to be the next line of action," she said, adding, though, that "I don't believe (military action against Iran) is on the table now" (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, Nov. 22).