Iran is holding one of its most ambitious military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz — a strategic waterway used for international oil supplies — to demonstrate that it has acquired credible answers to American and Israeli advancements in cyber and drone warfare.

Iran also said it successfully nullified a simulated cyber-attack against its military networks during the course of the exercise — a manoeuvre that has grabbed international attention. Iran Daily quoted Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari as saying that Iranian forces successfully defended a mock hacking attempt and a virus attack.

Analysts point out that the manoeuvre has wider strategic implications as it signals Iran’s absorption of lessons from earlier cyber-attacks, including the use of Stuxnet virus to impair the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Besides Stuxnet, it is widely believed that Israel and the United States were behind Flame and Gauss malware attacks on Iranian networks. In the wake of these attacks, Iran has raised military and cyber combatants to protect nuclear sites, oil and industrial facilities, communication networks and banking systems.

The purpose of the six-day Velayat-91 naval exercise was to establish Iran’s doctrine of deterrence, said the country’s top naval commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari.

By achieving military deterrence, Iran’s leadership hopes to expand and reinforce the diplomatic space on the nuclear issue — the core cause of tensions with the West.

Rear Admiral Sayyari said the exercise spanned an area “east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Sea of Oman and north of the Indian Ocean as far as the 18th parallel north”.

During Velayat-91, Iranian forces showcased a slew of missiles that can attack warships, missiles, aircraft and drones — the hardware that Tehran’s foes are likely to deploy in case of a war. These include the Raad air defence system that can knock out drones, fighter jets and cruise missiles at up to an altitude of 23 km. The Qader missiles, capable of targeting warships, and the long-range Nour surface-to-surface missile that can knock out advancing tank and infantry columns were also tested.

Iran has been paying special attention to developing drones and has used them as a tool of psychological warfare against Israel. The Lebanese Hizbollah — Iran’s top regional ally — had in October flown a drone developed by Tehran deep inside Israeli territory, triggering speculation that it may have surveyed the Dimona nuclear complex. Rear Admiral Alireza Nayyeri of the naval aviation unit was quoted as saying that the Iranian Navy had improved the capabilities of its drones. The present exercise follows extensive air defence manoeuvres in November during which Iran’s air defence units targeted drones using S-200 surface-to-air missiles.

Amid the exercise, there was expectation that Iran and the six global powers would soon hold another round of nuclear talks. But on Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that no agreement has been reached so far either on the dates or the venue of talks. A monitoring team from the International Atomic Energy Agency that has been seeking access to Parchin — a military site — is set to visit Tehran on January 16.

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