Iran begins expansive annual war games amid tensions with US

Iran begins expansive annual war games amid tensions with US

Commander of exercise dubbed Zolfaghar-99 says it is aimed at ‘improving readiness in confronting foreign threats and any possible invasion’; said to involve drones, submarines.

Iran’s military Thursday began an expansive annual three-day exercise near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state TV reported, with the maneuvers taking place amid heightened tensions between the Islamic Republic and the US.

Units from the navy and air force and ground forces are participating in a nearly 2 million-square-kilometer (772,200 square miles) area of the Gulf of Oman.

The Tasnim news agency reported the Iran-developed Fateh submarine and Simorgh drone were to play key roles in the drill.

Israel’s Channel 12 news reported the possibility of new weaponry being tested in the drill but no further details were given.

Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the annual exercise dubbed Zolfaghar-99, said Wednesday the operation is aimed at “improving readiness in confronting foreign threats and any possible invasion.”

“Surface and subsurface vessels, flying units, and part of the equipment and weapons available in the Army Combat Organization are present in this exercises, the most important of which is the powerful presence of the homemade Fateh submarine,” Sayyari said, according to the Fars news agency.

Sayyari’s comments hinted at the threat of military conflict amid tensions between Iran and the US, which has sought to extend a years-long UN weapons embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October.

Meanwhile, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are struggling to save the 2015 landmark accord with Iran, after the US pulled out of the agreement and as Tehran has been progressively stepping up its nuclear activities since last year.

Last month, US Central Command published a black-and-white video showing what appeared to be Iranian special forces fast-roping from a helicopter onto the oil tanker MT Wila, whose last position appeared to be off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates near the city of Khorfakkan. Iranian state television later acknowledged the brief seizure, referring to the operation as a routine inspection without elaborating.

In July, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica of a US aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz in an exercise aimed at threatening the US.

In January, a US drone strike killed a top Iranian general at the Baghdad airport and Tehran responded by firing ballistic missiles at American forces in Iraq.

Iran’s navy operates in the Gulf of Oman on the eastern side of the strait, through which 20 percent of all oil shipping passes.