Iran's armed forces began their biggest ever military maneuvers Friday to demonstrate "national solidarity," state-run television reported. The maneuvers in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean are the same that a plane that crashed in Tehran on Tuesday, killing 94 crew and passengers, was heading to. They also come amid concerns over Iran's nuclear program and its hard-line policy toward Israel.
The exercises cover an area of 33,000 nautical miles (49,500 miles) from the strategic Strait of Hormouz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Gowater on Iran's territorial waters close to Pakistan and involve submarines, warships, missiles, jet fighters and helicopter gunships.
"The maneuvers are aimed at testing the preparedness of the armed forces and demonstrate national unity in defending the country," a state-run TV announcer said without elaborating. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drew international criticism after saying Thursday that Israel should be moved to Europe and questioning whether the Holocaust took place. He has previously called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
It was unclear how long the maneuvers would last, how many troops would take part nor what specific weapons would be used, but state-run TV said they will be Iran's biggest ever military maneuvers. The broadcast said the drills include forces from Iran's Regular Army, the elite Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary volunteer forces known as Basijis and police, informs the AP. N.U.