July 3, 2012 -- The Iranian military has launched a barrage of missiles at "mock enemy bases" as part of a major war games exercise aimed at dissuading any potential outsider attack, the nation's state-run media reported today.
During what is called "The Great Prophet 7" drills, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) "targeted and destroyed hypothetical bases of ultra-regional forces set up in desert areas," according to Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency. The reports did not identify the "ultra-regional forces" but alluded to the ongoing diplomatic conflict between Iran and the U.S., which has several major military installations in the region.
"The main aim of this drill was to demonstrate the Iranian nation's political resolve to defend [its] vital values and national interests," IRGC Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami said, according to another state-run news outlet, Press TV. Press TV paraphrased Salami's description of the drills as a "firm response to those who threaten Iran with the option of military action."
The United States and Israel have for years been locked in a struggle with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program and the leaders of both the Israeli and American governments have said that any option -- including military action -- was "on the table" should it become clear Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have denied the nation seeks nuclear weapons and said Iran is only enriching uranium for domestic nuclear power purposes.
A day before the drills, Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi told another state media outlet, ISNA, that there is "no option" to end the nuclear conflict except a "diplomatic and political" one. Any other option, he said, would not be sought by a "sane" person.
"We have repeatedly emphasized that we are seeking interaction and do not welcome confrontation, but if they want to act unwisely, they must be aware that the Islamic Republic of Iran will gloriously defend its integrity..." he said, according to Tehran Times. "However, I believe that we will not get to that point."
Press TV said that several different missile types were tested, including the Shahab-3, which reportedly has an operational range of over 900 miles, meaning it could reach potential targets throughout the Middle East. The U.S. and its allies have several military bases in the region, including the home of the Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, a little over 120 miles from Iran's southern border. Israel's eastern border is about 600 miles from Iran's mainland.
While the Iranian news reports described some of the missiles as "long-range," none of those described are believed to have a range anywhere near what the U.S. military considers long range -- a term usually reserved for intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets more than 3,400 miles away.
The new drills also coincided with fresh tensions that followed a new round of harsh sanctions against Iran that targeted Iran's oil exports to Europe. Dozens of Iranian lawmakers have reportedly called on the Iranian military to shut down the Strait of Hormuz -- a narrow, strategic waterway that connects the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea through which an estimated one-fifth of the world's oil travels. Today The New York Times reported that the U.S. military has quietly strengthened its presence near the Strait of Hormuz as a precaution against such an action.