Iran holds multiple military drills amid tensions with Washington

Israeli soldiers gather on November 20, 2019 near the settlement Merom Golan in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, seized from Syrian in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. - The Israeli army carried out a

Iranian military has staged a series of drills since the beginning of the year, as it prepares for any possible contingencies amid its rising tensions with the U.S. government in the last days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The latest military exercise took place on Wednesday and Thursday, with the Iranian Navy staying a drill, codenamed Eqtedar-e Daryayi (Naval Strength) 99, along the Makran coasts in southeast Iran and north of the Indian Ocean.

Tehran started its latest wave of wargames on Jan. 5 with a novel large-scale drone exercise in Semnan province, after two weeks of escalating tensions marked by the first anniversary of the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani, former commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned on Dec. 31, 2020 of an alleged plot by Trump to attack Iran, right after the U.S. president gave the order to fly two B-52 bombers to the Middle East as a “deterrence message.” The deployment was supposed to deter Iran from taking any action to fulfill the vows renewed by Iranian officials to punish the perpetrators of Soleimani’s assassination on Jan. 3, 2020.

Incumbent commander of the Quds Force, Esmail Qa’ani, praised his predecessor before the anniversary in a speech, in which he warned Washington that retaliation could take place “from inside your own house.” Shortly before the two-day drone exercise was staged, Hossein Salami, commander in chief of the IRGC, declared that Iran would respond to any possible U.S. attack with a “reciprocal” strike.

According to the data officially released, the Iranian military tested hundreds of drones of different kinds in the central province of Semnan, belonging to the ground, air and naval forces.

The training operations included interception and destruction of air targets using air-to-air missiles, destruction of ground targets using bombs and point-to-point missiles, and widespread use of suicide drones, Deputy Chief for Operations in Iran’s Army Seyyed Mahmoud Mousavi declared.

One day before the launch of the series of drills, Iranian authorities kept issuing warnings. Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, declared on Jan. 4 that Tehran was closely monitoring the movements of U.S. warships in the Gulf, and would respond if its interests were attacked.

Similar admonitions were addressed also to Tel Aviv, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Jan. 4 that Israel would not allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, once Iran resumed 20 percent uranium enrichment. The Iranian show of force continued last week on Jan. 7, when Basij, an IRGC’s force of volunteers, held a naval parade on the shores of Assaluyeh port in the Gulf, attended by more than 700 light and heavy vessels.

The next day, Salami gave a televised speech when unveiling a new underground missile base in Hormozgan province, north of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Salami said he was inaugurating a kilometers-long facility similar to many other storing places for IRGC’s strategic missiles, ready to be launched in case of “hostile intent by the enemy.”

During the latest drill held on Wednesday and Thursday, the Iranian’s Southern Fleet took delivery of the helicopter-carrier and forward base ship Makran, hailed by local media as Iran’s largest-ever military vessel, and missile-launching frigate Zereh (Armor).

Makran can carry 100,000 tons of fuel and fresh water, and supply them to other vessels in various locations. It is also capable of making voyage for 1,000 days without a port call.

Semi-official Fars news agency published a report on the new vessel on Thursday, saying the ship will provide support to counter maritime insecurity and piracy, especially in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The ship Zereh will help the Navy to defend Iran’s territorial waters with its high maneuverability and speed, the report said.

On the second day of the naval drill, torpedoes were fired on Thursday for the first time from an Iranian home-made Fateh (Conqueror)-class submarine, and hit their targets, the Press TV reported. The cruise missiles also hit mock targets successfully at the last stage of the massive military drill in the Sea of Oman.

Meanwhile, Deputy Navy Commander for Coordination Hamzeh-Ali Kaviani, spokesman of the drill, issued a warning against any hostile “violation or encroachment” on Iran’s maritime borders.

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