Iran kicked off a series of "large-scale" war games on Thursday to test the country’s air defenses, fighter jets, and bomber planes in the Persian Gulf region, according to regional reports.
The drills began Thursday in the south of Iran near the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a critical global shipping lane that Tehran has threatened to attack and choke off in the past.
The "technical core" of the war drills is to test Iran’s "air-to-air combat" prowess and its targeting of "flying objects," according to reports in the country’s state-run media.
The military drills will unfold in three stages, according to Iranian Air Force Brigadier General Alireza Barkhor, who spoke to Iran’s state-run media about the war games.
The first phase begun today includes reconnaissance missions while the second phase starting on Friday will test a slew of "fighter jets, bomber jets, logistics, light, and reconnaissance aircraft" around the Persian Gulf area, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.
The air force drills come as the Obama administration seeks to coax Iran back to the bargaining table after a breakdown in talks aimed at stopping Iran’s contested nuclear program.
The third phase of Iran’s war games will focus on "civil defense tactics," according to Barkhor, though it remains unclear from reports exactly what this entails.
The new war games come a month after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched a separate military drill codenamed "Towards Jerusalem."
Friday’s set of drills will focus mainly on Iran’s "Southern waters," according to comments by Barkhor reported by Iran’s Fars News Agency.
Iran believes the drills will send a warning to the West and reassurance to its regional allies.
The "drill seeks to send a message of peace, friendship, and security to the regional countries," Barkhor was quoted as telling Fars.
Iran last tested its air force in September when it launched a series of drills focused on "electronic war operations" and other bomber missions.
Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin said the military drills are a sign that Iran’s reconciliatory rhetoric is not resonating with the regime’s military wing.
"Really, these war games show not much has changed inside the Islamic Republic. It's business as usual," said Rubin. "The war games certainly drive home the point to American allies that Iran is resurgent while America is in retreat."
"That [Secretary of State John] Kerry's diplomacy ignores Iran's military is the equivalent to Cold War diplomacy ignoring the Red Army," Rubin said.
Iran continued to express frustration and anger with America over the recent enforcement of existing sanctions.
The Obama administration issued several new sanctions designations last week, prompting the Iranians to leave nuclear talks and issue a set of stern warnings.
Tehran believes that the new designations violate the recently reached interim nuclear accord and are a sign of bad faith.
"The United States' recent sanctions against Iran meant its lack of care and respect for the Geneva nuclear deal with Iran," Fars wrote above a political cartoon that portrayed America as stabbing nuclear negotiators in the back.
Lawmakers in Washington are trying to resuscitate a new Iran sanctions bill that the White House opposes.
The bill would level new sanctions on Iran should it fail to comply with Western demands within a six-month negotiating period.