Iranian Forces Simulate `Liberation' of Jerusalem Shrine

An Iranian paramilitary force controlled by the Revolutionary Guards held an exercise simulating the “liberation” of a Jerusalem shrine that has become the flashpoint of Muslim-Jewish violence.

Hundreds of Basij militia fighters took part in the exercise to capture the al-Aqsa mosque in the exercise from a “hypothetical enemy,” Iranian media reported. Planes and helicopters were involved in the operation, which took place outside the Shiite holy city of Qom. The exercise involved bombing targets before deploying troops. The reports didn’t mention Israel by name.

Iran doesn’t recognize Israel and officials often blame the creation of the Jewish state and the occupation of Palestinian territories as a reason for instability in the region. The Revolutionary Guards have used mocked U.S. or Israeli targets in past military maneuvers as a way to project the elite group’s power and the extent of its influence in the Middle East.

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound has been at the center of a surge of Arab-Israeli violence in recent weeks. Arab fears that Israel is planning to change understandings governing worship at the Jerusalem hilltop compound -- known to Jews as the Temple Mount -- where the mosque is located. Clashes since the beginning of October has led to the deaths of at least 14 Israelis and more than 80 Palestinians. Israel denies it is trying to change arrangements in place under which only Muslim religious prayers are permitted there.

Insecurity is rising due to the “enemy’s incitement in the region,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps., Mohammad Ali Jafari, said. The aim of the Basij exercise is to defend the Islamic Republic on all fronts and “confront threats and proxy wars.”

Iran supports anti-Israeli groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have repeatedly warned against Iran’s threat to the existence of the Jewish state. Netanyahu unsuccessfully campaigned to sink the Islamic republic’s nuclear accord with global powers.