The biggest military exercise the Islamic Republic has ever staged begins Friday, March 31 in the Persian Gulf. The fierce Revolutionary Guards Corps navy commander, Rear Admiral Morteda Safari, calls the maneuver the Great Prophet. He says it is necessary to be ready to “decisively reply to any kind of threats,” without specifying what threats he has in mind.
More than 17,000 soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary Guards Corps navy and air force, in collaboration with Iran’s regular army, navy, volunteer Basij militia and police will take part. They will be armed with 1,500 different kinds of vessels, fighter planes, choppers and missiles. The exercise ending on April 6 will cover a 40 km-deep stretch of sea from the northern tip of the Persian Gulf down to the port city of Chah-bahar on the Sea of Oman.
While the rear admiral did not say whether missiles would be fired, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources disclose that Shehab-2 ballistic missiles will be launched twice – on Friday at the start of the exercise and again in its last stage. The planners decided to keep Iran’s more advanced Shehab-3 missiles under wraps after learning that US spy satellites and surveillance planes had been diverted to the Persian Gulf region to keep track of the maneuver and record its weaponry and tactics down to the finest detail, for a review of Revolutionary Guards Corps capabilities.
Iran for the first time will be deploying a large fleet of drones, including pilotless surveillance craft, which will experiment with jamming American electronic espionage devices.
Our military sources report that the exercise will have five stages.
Stage One: Two divisions will practice repulsing enemy naval and marine forces landing on an Iranian shore and conducting raids on Iranian islands, coasts and shipping in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman.
Stage Two: Iranian forces will strike back at enemy raider forces by air and sea.
Stage Three: Iranian forces will combat large-scale missile strikes and heavy aerial bombardment.
Stage Four: Iran will rebuild its damaged defense lines.
Stage Five: Iran will take the battle to enemy terrain, i.e. US bases in Arab Gulf emirates and Iraq.
This exercise is undoubtedly Tehran’s way of demonstrating its readiness for an American or Israel strike against its nuclear installations.
Bush takes a step back from the nuclear watchdog
Another key development revealed this week by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources: The Bush administration has stopped transmitting intelligence data on Iran’s nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. These transmissions were intended to evoke condemnation of those activities, but since the IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei’s is no longer clear on the Iranian nuclear issue, the Americans see no reason to share its confidential materials with him.
Very little came this week of the UN Security Council initiative which is too wishy-washy to bring Iran to book or arrest its progress for developing a nuclear weapon. A 30-day deadline was set for Iran to give up enrichment but Russia and China put their foot down against any real penalties for non-compliance.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Brussels reveal that the European powers this week circulated to European foreign ministries a report they compiled on Iran’s nuclear program, with the accent on uranium enrichment for military purposes.
This report confirms DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s disclosures in the last few months that the 1,500 P1 centrifuges Iran activated at its Natanz plant developed malfunctions that cut down their speed, reducing the quantities and quality of the enriched product. At the current rate, it will take Iran a year to produce two bombs or warheads.
The report stresses that this finding is true for the centrifuges centers whose locations are known to Western intelligence, but assumes that more centrifuge projects are scattered at secret locations outside Natanz, undiscovered by the West and international inspectors.
The Iranians are not wasting time on the faulty centrifuges. Instead, they have stepped up the tempo of their talks with China for the supply of P2 centrifuges; they are also speeding up the construction of their heavy water plant at Arak in the south. Work there is in progress around the clock.
The Europeans who compiled the report deduce from the frenzied activity at Arak that the Iranians may be about to give up on the centrifuge method of enrichment for a nuclear weapon and are ready to turn instead to plutonium. Our experts calculate that to accumulate enough plutonium to make a bomb will take Tehran another year or eighteen months.