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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Iran conducting military exercise

Al-AP is reporting that Iran launched a massive military exercise yesterday, according to its state-run television:
The television report said the military exercise would be conducted in 14 of the country's 30 provinces and could last as long as five weeks.

The first stage of the manoeuvres began with air strikes in the southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchistan, the report said.

The military exercises come as Iran faces heightened international scrutiny because of its contentious nuclear program and for supporting the guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran has denied Israeli accusations it is arming and training Hezbollah fighters, but also has declared Hezbollah victorious in its battle against the Jewish state.

The Islamic republic, which views the United States as an arch foe, also is concerned about the U.S. military presence in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israeli threats to destroy its nuclear facilities.

The military exercise, involving 12 infantry regiments, is called "The Blow of Zolfaghar," in reference to a sword that belonged to Imam Ali, one of the most revered figures of Islam for Shia Muslims. A majority of Iran's 70 million people are Shia.

Iran has routinely held war games over the past two decades to improve its combat readiness and test locally made equipment, such as missiles, tanks and armoured personnel carriers.
But according to DEBKAfile, the exercise's timing means that there's a lot more to it than that. Tuesday, August 22, corresponds in the Islamic calendar to the date on which many Sunni Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on his winged horse Buraq to “the farthest mosque”, which is traditionally identified with Jerusalem. According to the Muslim legend, on that day, a divine white light spread over Jerusalem and the whole world.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report that information rated “highly credible” has reached US undercover agencies of a secret report presented to Iran’s supreme ruler Ali Khamenei by Abdollah Shabhazi, one of the heads of the Supreme National Security Council. He claims to expose a mega-terror plot against Jerusalem scheduled for August 22, which aims at killing large numbers of Jews, Arabs and Christians.

This atrocity will reportedly arm the United States and Israel with the pretext for hitting Iran’s nuclear installations, as well its capital, Tehran, and other big cities.

Shabhazi says the US and Israel need to launch a military campaign to restore the deterrent strength they lost in the Lebanon war.

The massive attack will reportedly focus on the Old City of Jerusalem and its eastern suburbs. The Iranian report claims that the plotters, who are not identified, are eager to recreate the divine white light whish spread over Jerusalem in the year 632. It does not rule out the use of a non-conventional weapon.

DEBKAfile reports that the authorities in Israel do not appear to be taking this threat seriously, unlike Washington – and Tehran.
I'm not sure what they are including in 'eastern suburbs.' It could mean the entire Ma'aleh Adumim bloc, as well as French Hill, Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Zev, Mount Scopus and the Arab suburbs of al-Azariyah and Abu Dis.
DEBKAfile adds: The point of this massive display of might is in fact to place Iran’s armed forces on the ready for the contingency of a US-Israeli offensive on August 22 as per Shabhazi’s prediction. The exercise will be moved to Tehran to prepare the capital for a potential assault.

August 22, furthermore, is also the day of Iran’s formal reply to the incentives packages on offer from the West in return for halting its uranium enrichment projects.


Prof. Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam and the Middle East offers the background in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 8:

“In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time - Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam… Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.”

Revolutionary Iran habitually links fundamentalist symbolism to political events.

Prof. Lewis explains the significance of Aug. 22 and adds ominously:

“This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.”

The Shiites do not recognize Rajab 27 as the date of Muhammad’s purported flight to Jerusalem but celebrate Mabath to commemorate the day they believe Allah appeared before Mohammed in a cave and told him he had been chosen as the prophet to spread the divine message across the world. Mabath is marked by Shiites in Iran and other parts of the Middle East with great ceremony.

Claiming to represent the true Islam, the Shiite rulers of Tehran are expected by Washington to mark the date by demonstrating their military superiority for all Muslims to see.

In addition to Bernard Lewis’s hypothesis, speculation is rife in Washington about what Iran has in store for next Tuesday. Tehran may announce success in producing enriched uranium of a higher grade, meaning it is no more than six months away from a weapons-grade capability. While providing justification for UN Security Council sanctions, Tehran prefers to believe that this announcement will be its passport for admission to the world’s nuclear club and its attendant privileges, including the right to enrich uranium independently.
I suspect that Israel is taking this a bit more seriously than DEBKAfile is letting on. In any event, Tuesday is likely to be an interesting day.


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