TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran staged a mock interception of enemy warplanes attacking its nuclear facilities as part of its biggest military exercises to improve the Islamic state’s readiness to respond to aggression, media said on Wednesday.
Iran started the five-day nationwide exercises on Tuesday to test its ability to deter air strikes, which the United States and Israel have not ruled out to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is for power.
“The exercise will improve our ability to confront possible threats to Iran’s air space and the very populated, vital and nuclear centres,” senior Revolutionary Guards commander Ahmad Mighani said.
As part of the exercises, warplanes were scrambled to intercept an imaginary air attack.
“Hypothetical enemy planes crossed into Iranian air space ... Our artillery systems were immediately alerted, targets were identified,” Commander Hamid Arjangi, a spokesman for the exercise, was quoted by IRNA as saying. “Warnings were given and our jets carried out interception operations.”
Iran’s students news agency ISNA said that during the exercise, warplanes “were trying to penetrate Iran’s sensitive, industrial and particularly its nuclear regions.”
A senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Sunday that land forces had also carried out military drills near Iran’s nuclear facilities “exactly like real combat.”
The United States and its allies suspect Iran’s nuclear programme is a cover to build bombs. Tehran denies this, saying it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.
Israel, which says a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence, and its ally the United States refuse to rule out pre-emptive strikes against Iran. U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday argued strongly against the military option.
Some Western officials suspect Iran is developing missiles and carrying out tests so that it can deliver a nuclear weapon.
Iran denies this, saying its missile development efforts are for defensive purposes only. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s most powerful figure, said threats of military action against the Islamic state were useless.
“It is impossible to confront Iran with military threats ... or by imposing sanctions ... Such threats will have no results,” state television quoted Khamenei as saying.
Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri, Writing by Parisa Hafezi