Fearing an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Iranian military drilled attacks on the Israeli port city of Haifa and the nuclear reactor at Dimona, according to a classified Pentagon report.
The American intelligence assessment, reported Wednesday by the New York Times, also reported that skittish Iranian air defense teams mistakenly targeted civilian airliners and military jets in Iran’s skies in 2007 and 2008.
In 2008, Israel’s air force carried out a large exercise over the Mediterranean that was identified by some observers as a rehearsal for a strike against Iran.
Less than two weeks later, according to the 2008 US report obtained by the Times, the commander of Iran’s air force instructed pilots to carry out “daily air-to-ground attack training (GAT) at firing ranges resembling the Israeli city of Haifa and the Israeli nuclear facility at Dimona.”
Iran’s anti-aircraft batteries also targeted civilian airliners on at least two occasions that same year and the previous year, the report said. In other incidents, batteries fired on a reconnaissance drone and an Iranian F-14 fighter. Military jets were also scrambled to intercept civilian airliners because of concerns they were Israeli aircraft heading towards Iran’s nuclear sites.
It was unclear if aircraft were downed or damaged in any of the incidents.
“Iranian air defense units have taken inappropriate actions dozens of times, including firing antiaircraft artillery and scrambling aircraft against unidentified or misidentified targets,” according to a quote in the Times article from a 2008 Pentagon report, titled “Operational Mishaps by Air Defense Units.”
The incidents were the result of an inadequate command-and-control structure, according to the report, which noted that Iran’s military communications and training methods are poor and as a result “misidentification of aircraft will continue.”
In 2009, two passenger jets belonging to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards crashed mysteriously outside Tehran within months of each other. It is unclear if those crashes were related to the failures detailed in the Pentagon report.
Iranian fears were reportedly spurred by Israel’s September 2007 bombing of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, as well as by threats from Jerusalem and Washington over Iran’s nuclear program.