Iran begins annual war games to ‘improve readiness’ ahead of nuclear talks

Air force units and ground forces participating in military exercises to prepare for ‘foreign threats and any possible invasion’; drill taking place near strategic Strait of Hormuz

In this picture released by the Iranian Army on November 7, 2021, troops attend a maneuver in a coastal area in southeastern Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)
In this picture released by the Iranian Army on November 7, 2021, troops attend a maneuver in a coastal area in southeastern Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s military began its annual war games in a coastal area of the Gulf of Oman, state TV reported Sunday, less than a month before upcoming nuclear talks with the West.

The report said navy and air force units, as well as ground forces, were participating in an area of more than 1 million square kilometers (386,100 square miles) east of the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Nearly 20% of all oil shipping passes through the strait to the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.

The drill comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US in the wake of former president Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of the United States from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

State TV said brigades including commandos and airborne infantry deployed for the annual exercise. Fighter jets, helicopters, military transport aircraft, submarines and drones were also expected to take part in the drill. It wasn’t immediately clear how long the exercise would last.

Dubbed “Zolfaghar-1400,” the war games are aimed at “improving readiness in confronting foreign threats and any possible invasion,” state TV said.

Iranian warships are seen in the Atlantic Ocean, in a photo released on June 10, 2021. (Iranian Army via AP)

The Tasnim news agency quoted Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, Iran’s deputy army chief, as saying the drill will be a demonstration of Iran’s power at sea, “warning the enemies that any act of aggression against Iran will draw a crushing response from the army.”

US officials said last week that Iran had seized a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman last month and was still holding the vessel in its port.

Iran offered conflicting accounts of what happened, claiming that elite Revolutionary Guard commandos had thwarted a US seizure of a tanker carrying Iranian oil in the Gulf of Oman and freed the vessel. It aired dramatic footage on state television but did not further explain the incident.

The nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, promises Iran economic incentives in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, and is meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.

As the US withdrew from the deal in 2018 and restored sanctions on Iran, the Islamic Republic gradually — and publicly — abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

Iran says its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has reached over 210 kilograms (463 pounds), the latest defiant move ahead of upcoming nuclear talks with the West.

TV cameras in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

Under the historic nuclear deal, Iran was prohibited from enriching uranium above 3.67%. Enriched uranium above 90% can be used for nuclear weapons, though Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

After months of delays, the European Union, Iran and the US announced last week that indirect talks to resuscitate the deal would resume November 29 in Vienna.

Talks began in April in Vienna between Tehran and the remaining five parties to the 2015 deal, aimed at bringing Washington back into the agreement. But that dialogue has been stalled since the sixth round of talks in June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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