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Iran To Stage Massive Gulf Military Maneuver

Farhad Pouladi, Tehran (AFP) | March 30 2006

Thousands of Iranian troops will on Friday start a week-long military maneuver in the Gulf to ready armed forces for warding off "threats", a senior commander announced on state television.

The commander of the navy of Revolutionary Guards Corps, Rear Admiral Mostafa Safari, did not specify the nature of the threat although the maneuver comes amid increasing tensions with the West over Tehran's nuclear programme.

"The Revolutionary Guards Corps navy and air force in collaboration with (Iran's regular) army, navy, (the volunteer militia) Basij, and the Iranian police will start a maneuver from 31 March until 6 April in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman," he said.

Iran has two armed forces in which both have their own ground, naval and air force all under the command of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He added: "We hope ... We will gain the necessary and needed readiness to decisively reply to any kind of threats."

"More than 17,000 soldiers and sailors will be used, along with 1,500 different kind of vessels, in addition to the different sorts of jet fighter planes, choppers and different missiles," he added, but did not say whether Iran will use its ballistic missiles.

Iran has medium-range Shahab-3 missiles with the capability of 2,000 kilometers (1,280 miles), able of hitting arch-enemy Israel and US bases across the Middle East.

"The exercise will cover an area stretching from the northern tip of the Persian Gulf all the way to the port city of Chah-Bahar in the Sea of Oman extending 40 kilometers (25 miles) into the sea," he said.

In addition, the spokesman of the maneuvers, Rear Admiral Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghan told state television that the strait of Hormouz will be one of the focal points of the exercise.

"Some 80 percent of the Persian Gulf's oil is shipped out of this strait over which Iran has dominant and accurate control," he said.

"If the enemy wants to make the area insecure, he should be rest assured that he will also suffer from the insecurity, since we know the location of their vessels," he added.

The country is currently under mounting international pressure over its disputed nuclear energy drive, alleged by Israel and the West to be cover for weapons development. Tehran denies the charges.

Top diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will meet in Berlin on Thursday to map out a long-term strategy on how to contend with Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which could be used to build a nuclear bomb.

In Israel, Tehran's arch foe, however, several officials have openly hinted at the possibility of pre-emptive strikes against Iran, seen as a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that any attempt at using force or coercion to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program would be counter-productive.

"Any ideas about a coercive, forceful solution to the issue are highly counter-productive and cannot be supported," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

Iran's Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said nearly two months ago that Islamic republic will give an "extremely quick and destructive response" to any attack against its nuclear facilities.

However, Iran -- OPEC's second biggest oil producer -- has been sending mixed messages over whether it would use its oil exports as a weapon in the case of action from the UN Security Council.


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