TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s air force and defense units began war games on Monday aimed at testing equipment and boosting readiness, news agencies reported.
The maneuvers took place at a time of persistent speculation about a possible U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which the West fears form part of a secret bid to make bombs. Tehran denies the charge.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog was due to publish its latest report on Iran later on Monday. Diplomats have said an inquiry by the Vienna-based agency into whether Tehran covertly researched how to assemble an atom bomb appeared to have stalled.
Iran’s Fars and ISNA news agencies said the air force exercise was being held in half of the Islamic Republic’s 30 provinces but did not give details or say how long it would last.
The commander of Iran’s aerial defense, Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani, said it was staged to practice tactics, use modern equipment and increase military readiness, Fars said.
Iranian media earlier this month said three days of maneuvers were due to begin on September 8, also involving anti-aircraft defense systems; but it was not clear whether they were the same ones which instead got under way on Monday.
Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff, but has not ruled out military action if that fails. Tehran says its nuclear program is a peaceful drive to generate electricity and has refused to halt sensitive work.
Speculation about a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has risen since Israel staged an air force exercise in June which was reported to be a simulation of a strike against Iran.
Iran says it would respond to any such action by attacking U.S. interests and Israel.