Fredrik Dahl and Hashem Kalantari – Reuters November 21, 2009
Iran will begin large-scale air defense war games on Sunday to help protect its nuclear facilities against any attack, a senior commander said.
Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani also suggested Iran could itself produce an advanced missile defense system which Russia has so far failed to deliver to the Islamic Republic and which Washington and Israel do not want Tehran to have.
Iran believes Russia's delay in supplying high-grade S-300 missiles was due to pressure by Israel, not technical problems as cited by Moscow, Mighani said.
"We are hopeful the Russians will ignore the pressure of the Zionist lobby," Fars News Agency quoted him as saying on Saturday. Iran refers to Israel as the "Zionist regime."
The military maneuvers will last for five days and involve both the elite Revolutionary Guards and the regular armed forces against a hypothetical enemy, Iranian media reported.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row over Iranian nuclear work that the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.
Iran, which says its nuclear program is solely to generate electricity, has threatened to hit back at Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf if it is attacked.
"This week's air defense maneuvers will be held with the intention of protecting the country's nuclear facilities," Mighani said, Fars reported. State television said the defense drills would "ensure better protection" for these facilities.
The war games were announced a day after senior officials from six world powers said they were disappointed Iran had not accepted proposals intended to delay its potential to make nuclear weapons, and urged Tehran to reconsider.
The United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France met after U.S. President Barack Obama warned there could be a package of sanctions against Iran within weeks.
Iran often holds defense exercises and announces advances in military equipment in order to show its readiness to counter any threats over its disputed nuclear program.
The official IRNA news agency said the exercises would take place in western Iran and that they would be "huge."
Iranian officials have over the last few weeks voiced growing frustration at Russia's failure to deliver the S-300.
Moscow, which is under Western pressure to distance itself from Iran over the nuclear dispute, has not followed through on proposals to supply the missiles to the country.
"They have declared technical problems as the underlying reason for this delay, but we think it has been due to the Zionists' pressure," Mighani said, according to Fars.
"In various maneuvers, new and modern missile networks will be used and evaluated, including the advanced S-300 missiles, for which the production capability exists in Iran," IRNA quoted him as saying, without elaborating.
A senior lawmaker, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, earlier this month also said Iran would be able to produce the S-300 system itself, appearing to refer to missiles with similar capabilities.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Russia last month for failing to provide the arms to Iran.
The truck-mounted S-300PMU1, known in the West as the SA-20, can shoot down cruise missiles and aircraft. It can fire at targets up to 150 km (90 miles) away.
(Editing by Jon Hemming)
Last updated 22/11/2009