Iran says it is testing an air defense system this week in the largest military exercises it has conducted to assess the country’s ability to protect its nuclear plants.
The new anti-aircraft defense system will be tested in an operation called “Aseman-e-Valayat 2,” state-run Press TV cited Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi as saying in Tehran late yesterday after the drills began.
The operation will last five days and cover about 600,000 square kilometers (231,660 square miles) in the northwest, west, south and southwest, Brigadier General Ahmad Miqani, commander of the air defense headquarters, told Press TV. The area used for the exercises totals more than a third of Iranian territory.
Iran is under three sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions, the first imposed in December 2006, for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment for its nuclear program. The U.S. and its European allies suspect Iran of using the program to develop atomic weapons while the government in Tehran says the technology is for peaceful use, such as electricity production.
The government said in September it has developed a system capable of identifying and destroying stealth cruise missiles.
Vahidi said Iran intends to conclude an agreement with Russia to buy the S-300 surface-to-air missile system. The accord, worth an estimated $800 million, was signed in 2007, Press TV said. The defense minister earlier this month criticized Russia for delays in concluding the accord, it said.
The delivery of sophisticated Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles would “dramatically” improve Iran’s air defense capability, the U.S. Defense Department said a year ago.
Iran has successfully tested surface-to-surface missiles, including a firing in September of its Shahab-3, which the military says has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), a distance that would put Israel within reach.
Iran will target the city of Tel Aviv in the event Israel begins a military attack, Press TV cited Mojtaba Zolnour, the representative in the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps for supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying two days ago.
“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,” Zolnour said, according to the report on Press TV’s Web site.
Israel said in August it expected the international community to take “substantive and prompt steps to halt Iran’s nuclear program.”
Iran’s “primary” right to nuclear technology isn’t negotiable, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week. The West must cooperate with the government in Tehran or face a more powerful Islamic republic, he said.
“Cooperating with Iran is in the interest of the West,” Ahmadinejad said. “Their disapproval will make Iran more powerful and more advanced.”
President Barack Obama has said time is running short for Iran to accept a deal offered by international negotiators.
Iran has yet to respond to the UN-brokered proposal under which Iran would ship most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad.
While Iran is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, limited refining capacity forces it to import about a third of its gasoline.
To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at email@example.com.