DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the six-day Iranian air defense drill is Tehran’s answer to the joint three-week US-Israeli maneuver - Austere Challenge 2012 – which is drilling defenses against an Iranian or Syrian ballistic missile attack on Israel.
Monday, four US and Israeli Patriot anti-missiles missiles shot down four out of four mock Iranian missiles from the Israeli air base at Palmachim. Tuesday, the Iranians paraded a new air defense system modeled on the US Hawk system. Earlier reports said the new surface-to-air system is named “Mersad,” or Ambush. It was capable of locking on a flying object at a distance of 80 kilometers (50 miles) and able to hit from 45 kilometers (30 miles) away, Iranian state TV said.
The Iranians have apparently upgraded the American Hawk system, say our military sources, but not all its touted specifications are confirmed. Even if they are, Iran’s latest military exercise shows it cannot match missile interceptors on the high order of the US and Israeli Aegis, THAAD and Arrow. These systems are capable of pinpointing ballistic and cruise missiles the moment they are launched by means of the highly sophisticated US X-band radar stations, one of which is located in the Israeli Negev, and shooting them down hundreds of kilometers before they approach their targets.
The anti-missile systems launched from the Israeli coast Monday practiced for the first time US and Israeli ability to intercept Iranian cruise missiles speeding toward the Israeli shore from Iranian warships or merchant vessels cruising in the Mediterranean Sea or launched by Hizballah marines. Specialized Hizballah units have been trained in Iran of late in the handling of short-range cruise missiles launched from large commando speedboats.
American and other Western intelligence agencies have received word that Iran is outfitting with cruise missile launch pads civilian merchant vessels that would sail close to the Israeli coast in a war.
The US and Israeli planners of the joint maneuver are working on the assumption that the Iranian stealth drone which entered Israeli air space from Lebanon on Oct. 6, after spending an hour and twenty minutes over the Mediterranean, was performing a part in an Iranian-Hizballah exercise. This exercise is thought to have tested the use of an Iranian drone for guiding shipboard cruise missiles launched from the sea.
The UAV passed across Israeli skies, our military sources noted, at exactly the same time as a Palestinian Hamas military exercise took place in the Gaza Strip.
Tehran has clearly been building up to the present exercise. A week before the drone operation, Gen. Ferzad Ismaili, head of Iranian air defenses, said, “We may be faced with full-scale and all-out electronic warfare.”
The Iranian military exercise under way now over almost the entire eastern half of the country, with the participation of jet fighters, drones and more than 8,000 troops, is one of the most extensive of its kind to take place in recent months.