Iran Army to Hold War Games Amid Speculation Over Israeli Strike

Iranian state media: Aim is to maintain readiness of anti-aircraft defense systems and test new arms.

Iran's armed forces will begin three days of war games on Monday involving anti-aircraft defense systems, Iranian media reported Sunday.

The exercises will be held amid persistent speculation about a possible U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, which the West and Israel say are part of a clandestine bid to build atomic bombs, despite Tehran's denials.

The ISNA news agency said both Iran's Revolutionary Guards and its regular army would take part in the drills.

"Maneuvers with the participation of anti-aircraft defense systems will be held for three days starting Monday," it said, without giving further details.

The English-language Iran Daily said the aim was to maintain and upgrade the combat readiness of relevant units as well as to "test new weapons and defense plans."

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 hit back if attacked.

Also Sunday, President Shimon Peres told the British newspaper Sunday Times that if Israel were to attack Iran, it could trigger a much bigger war. He added that he had warned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert against a military offensive, urging him to remain on the diplomatic path in dealing with the Islamic republic's nuclear threat.

On Saturday, Iran dismissed a warning by France's president Nicolas Sarkozy that the Islamic Republic was taking a dangerous gamble over its nuclear program because one day Israel could attack. The Islamic Republic has said, though, it would respond by attacking U.S. interests and Israel if any such assault was made.

An Iranian commander last week said the Iranian air force would hold exercises during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began in Iran on Sept. 2, but it was not immediately clear whether he was referring to the same drills as the ISNA report.

Alongside the regular army, Iran has a Revolutionary Guards force viewed as guardians of the Islamic ruling system. The Guards have a separate command and their own air, sea and land units, but often work with the regular military.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman last week denied reports, based on comments from Israeli defense sources, that Iran had bought Russia's advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system and would get it this year.

There have been conflicting reports about whether Iran was buying the S-300 system. Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said last year Russia had agreed to deliver the missiles to Iran under a signed contract. Russia denied such plans.

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer, says its nuclear program is aimed at making electricity, not bombs. The United States says it wants diplomacy to end the row but has not ruled out military action if that fails.