WASHINGTON – U.S. military warplanes flew over Iranian air space, raising Tehran’s concerns preparations are being made to knock out its nuclear facilities, according to Iranian news media reports.
The U.S. jets reportedly flew out of bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the latest coming Saturday when a fighter buzzed at low altitude an area in the northeastern province of Khorrasan, which borders Afghanistan.
Other reports of overflights cited intrusions by F-16 and F-18 fighters over the southwestern province of Khuzestan, which borders southern Iraq. Papers said the planes appeared to be spying on nuclear sites.
The U.S. military was silent on the veracity of the reports. However, one source said he would not be surprised if the reports were accurate, given the building international tensions over the state of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“The circular maneuvering of the two American fighters indicated them as carrying out spying sorties and controlling the borders,” said an Iranian official.
Less than a week earlier, Iranian air force chief Brig. Karim Qavami was quoted as having ordered his forces to open fire and shoot down any unidentified aircraft violating the country’s airspace.
“Given that the intrusion of enemy aircraft over Iran’s airspace is possible, all fighter jets of the country have been ordered by the army chief to shoot them down in the event of sighting them,” he said.
In August, five U.S. warplanes entered Iranian airspace from the southwestern Shalamcheh border and overflew Khorramshahr. Iranian military specialists believe the intrusions are designed to assess the capabilities of Iran’s anti-aircraft defenses.
Army chief Gen. Mohammad Salimi also said the Iranian air force has been ordered to defend the country`s nuclear sites in the event of an attack.
“The air force has been ordered to protect the nuclear sites, using all its power,” the daily Iran quoted Salimi as saying, adding the air force had temporarily suspended all its maneuvers to focus its capabilities on patrolling the skies over Iran.
Such statements have raised the stakes in a war of words amid foreign press speculation about possible Israeli and American attack on Iran`s nuclear facilities. Iranian military commanders have warned of grave consequences if any such attack takes place.