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TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has staged air defense exercises day and said anyone attacking the Islamic Republic would regret it, Iranian news agencies reported.

The maneuvers took place on the day the United Nations' nuclear watchdog said an inquiry into Western allegations of secret atom bomb research had reached a standstill because of Iranian failure to cooperate.

The Fars and ISNA news agencies said the air force drill was being held in half of the Islamic Republic's 30 provinces but did not give details or say how long it would last.

Dozens of aircraft took part in the maneuvers, in which an imaginary enemy would attack Iran's air defenses, ISNA said.

Iran has said neither U.S. nor Israeli forces are in a position to strike but has vowed to strike back at Israel and U.S. interests and shipping if it is attacked.

Military analysts say Iran's real ability to respond could be with more unconventional tactics than a missile salvo, such as deploying small craft to hit oil tankers, or using allies in the area to strike at U.S. or Israeli interests.

Increase Military Readiness

The commander of Iran's aerial defense, Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani, said the exercise was staged to increase military readiness, Fars said.

"[Mighani] emphasized that the enemies would receive a serious response for any aggression and we would surprise them and make them regretful," ISNA reported.

Iran is estimated to have 280 combat aircraft, including Russian-made MiG-29 aircraft, but serviceability may be 80 percent or lower, military analysts say.

Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff, but has not ruled out military action if that fails. Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, says its nuclear programme is a peaceful drive to generate electricity.

An International Atomic Energy Agency report issued on September 15 said Iran had raised the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to 3,820, compared with 3,300 in May, with over 2,000 more being installed.

But UN officials said Iran seemed a long way from refining enough uranium to build a nuclear bomb, if it so chose.

'Empty' Threats

Speculation about a possible attack on Iran's nuclear sites has risen since Israel staged an air force exercise in June which was reported to be a simulation of a strike against Iran.

"Threats by the Zionist regime and America against our country are empty," Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was quoted by Mehr News Agency on September 14 as saying.

"Military threats are a sign of psychological problems which are due to the enemies' weakness," the minister added.

In Washington last week, a Pentagon official said the United States did not expect Iran to receive an advanced Russian air defense system this year. Western and Israeli experts have said that if Iran acquired the S-300 system, it would make any strike by Israel or the United States on Iran's nuclear sites tougher.

Asked whether Iran had bought Russia's advanced S-300 antiaircraft missile system, Najjar said: "We will do anything that is necessary to strengthen our armed forces, defensive capabilities, at its proper time."

Iranian officials have given conflicting signals in the past about whether Iran was buying the Russian system. Moscow has in the past denied plans to sell the weapon to Tehran.
RFE/RL Iran Report


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