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Iran plans major air defence exercise: Report

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TEHRAN (AFP): Iran plans to start a major military exercise later this month to test its air defence systems, a top Revolutionary Guards commander has said.

The exercise was announced on Sunday by Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, who heads the elite force's air defence command, amid rising speculation that Israel is weighing the option of a pre-emptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

"All of the air defence systems of the Guards as well as those of the army will be used in the drill," which is planned to run from September 21 to October 21, Esmaili was quoted as telling the official IRNA news agency.

He told the Young Journalists Club, a group affiliated to Iranian state television, that his unit's priority was protecting nuclear facilities.

"The nuclear sites are our priority and most of the (air defence) systems, as well as covert defence units, have been set up around them," he said.

In addition to the air defence systems, fighter and bomber jets will be used in the exercise, which Esmaili said will simulate "unexpected scenarios" to test the forces' crisis management.

The Mehr news agency quoted another commander as saying that Iran had set up radar, missile and electronic warfare units near its northwestern border.

"This equipment has been installed in more than 300 locations," Rasoul Rezvani-Kia, head of the northwestern air defence command, was quoted as saying.

As its standoff with the West over its controversial nuclear programme has dragged on, Iran has held such exercises two or three times a year, with the most recent staged in July.

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