Iran begins large-scale military drill

Iranian official: Tel Aviv, US fleet to be targeted if Iran attacked; American navy also holds drill in Gulf.

iran revolutionary guard (photo credit: AP)
iran revolutionary guard
(photo credit: AP)
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has begun a military exercise and issued a warning that Israel and US naval forces in the Persian Gulf would be prime targets if Iran is attacked. The Web site of the elite Iranian force posted a statement late Monday announcing the military drill, which it said involved "missile squads," but did not say where it was taking place. The Revolutionary Guard and Iranian army hold regular exercises two or three times a year, but the statement did not specify whether or not this drill was a special exercise. The Iranian Web Site quoted guard official Ali Shirazi as saying that Tel Aviv and US warships in the Gulf would be among the first targets if Iran comes under attack. "The Zionist regime is pushing the White House to prepare for a military strike on Iran," Shirazi was quoted as saying. "If they show such stupidity, Tel Aviv and the US naval fleet in the Persian Gulf will be the first targets which will be set on fire in Iran's crushing response." Shirazi is a cleric who represents supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the Revolutionary Guard's naval force. Khamenei has the final say over all state matters. "The first shot by the US on Iran" would put US vital interests in the world at risk, said Shirazi, according to the Web site. The US is also carrying out drills in the Gulf, which began last week and end on Monday. The US this week vowed that it would not let Iran block the strategic waterways, which are used to transport significant parts of the Gulf's oil to the rest of the world. The exercises include vessels from the US, the United Kingdom and Bahrain, operating as part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 152. "The aim of the exercise is to protect the maritime infrastructure such as gas and oil terminals which are vital to the world's economy and gets out through the Strait of Hurmuz," Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain told The Media Line. The Fifth Fleet said the current exercise was planned long advance and, like many other exercises, aims to maintain coalition proficiency. Analysts surmised that this heightened military activity in the Gulf area could be the precursor to a military standoff between the US and Iran. The US, however, insists that the current drills are routine and that the navy does not make official comments on speculation regarding military strikes on Iran. "The interaction we have with the regular Iranian forces is usually routine, correct and very professional," Christensen said. "The US and coalition forces intersect with Iranian forces almost on a regular basis." On Friday, Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, said Iran would consider any military action against its nuclear facilities as the beginning of a war. However, Iranian leaders have said they believe the speculation of a military strike is part of a campaign of psychological warfare. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - as well as Germany, have offered to hold new talks if Iran signals it is prepared to suspend its uranium enrichment program. The Media Line/Rachelle Kliger contributed to this report