Iranian Soldiers Simulate Capture of Al-Aqsa Mosque

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TEHRAN— Thousands of paramilitary forces from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard have held a war game simulating the capture of Al-Aqsa Mosque from Israeli control, reports said Saturday.

It said forces stormed and “liberated” a replica of the mosque in the exercise. They say that 120 brigades from the Basij, the paramilitary unit of the Guard, participated in Friday’s exercise outside the city of Qom in central Iran.

The symbolic operations were backed up by Guard helicopters, drones and Tucano planes that bombed hypothetical enemy positions before ground troops captured the replica of the mosque set up at the top of a mountain.

Official photos showed one of the troops going to the top of the dome and waving an Iranian flag and a red flag, a symbol of martyrdom.

The hilltop compound, which is holy to Jews and Muslims, has been at the heart of weeks of unrest between Israel and the Palestinians. Muslims call the spot the Noble Sanctuary, and the mosque is Islam’s third holiest site after Makkah and Medina and has been under Israeli occupation since 1948. 

The current round of unrest, labeled Intifada-III was sparked in part by rumors that Israel was plotting to take over the mosque. Clashes outside the mosque erupted in September and quickly spread across occupied territories including the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Iranian Guard’s aerospace division, said his force deployed Shahed-129, or Witness-129, drones during the war games. The Iranian built drone, unveiled in 2013, has a range of 1,700 kilometers, a 24-hour nonstop flight capability and can carry eight bombs or missiles.

Iranian commanders have not said how they would be able to deploy large numbers of forces against Israel, located 1,600 kilometers away.

Islamic Republic, Israel’s arch-enemy, is ardent supporter of the Palestinians and holds an annual “Jerusalem (Al-Quds) Day” each year on the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan. Iran does not recognize Israel and favors one state solution where Muslims and Jews can live together with rule of the majority.

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