Behrouz Mehri, AFP/Getty Images (m6gz1lpd20120702021933/600 )
TEHRAN — As a European Union oil embargo took effect, a defiant Iran said Sunday that it was beginning a new round of war games that would involve firing missiles at models of foreign air bases.
The war games are an example of how Iranian leaders are projecting an image of strength at a time when the country's sanctions-battered economy is in a downward spiral. Iran also is facing the possibility of attack because of its nuclear program, and its major Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, is struggling to put down an armed rebellion.
During the war games, missiles will be fired from different points across the country at 100 designated targets, the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying during a news conference. All the missiles are produced in Iran, said Hajizadeh, who heads the Republican Guard aerospace unit.
The three-day exercise, called the Great Prophet 7, is designed "to allow experts to assess the precision and efficiency of warheads and missile systems," the agency reported. Unmanned aircraft will also carry out operations during the maneuvers, the general said.
The targets will be sites made to appear like bases "of the extra-regional powers," all situated in the desert of Semnan province in north-central Iran, the general said.
Iran regularly conducts war games to display its strength to adversaries, particularly Israel and the United States.
Neither of those countries has ruled out an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring an atomic bomb. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, such as generation of energy and treatment of cancer patients. International talks aimed at defusing the tension have so far yielded few concrete results.
Hajizadeh repeated boasts from Iranian commanders that Israel would be destroyed if it were to strike Iran.
He said that Western radar systems directed at Iran are vulnerable to a domestically produced missile system.
Word of the war games came as a new European oil embargo took effect.
But Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi downplayed the effect of the embargo, noting that Europe accounted for only about 18% of Iranian oil exports before the embargo. He said other nations have indicated that they would purchase the oil.
"The sanctions have had no effect on Iran and will have none," Ghasemi told the Iranian Students News Agency, or ISNA.
Outside experts say sanctions have helped torpedo Iran's economy and its national currency, which has lost close to half of its value against the U.S. dollar in the last year.
Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.