Iran’s fake air­craft car­rier, mock-ups of fighter jets spot­ted in Per­sian Gulf

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - WEATHER DESK -

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — As ten­sions re­main high be­tween Iran and the U.S., the Is­lamic Repub­lic ap­pears to have con­structed a new mock-up of an air­craft car­rier off its south­ern coast for po­ten­tial live-fire drills.

The faux foe, seen in satel­lite pho­to­graphs ob­tained Tues­day by The As­so­ci­ated Press, re­sem­bles the Nimitz-class car­ri­ers that the U.S. Navy rou­tinely sails into the Per­sian Gulf from the Strait of Hor­muz, its nar­row mouth where 20% of all the world’s oil passes through.

While not yet ac­knowl­edged by Ira­nian of­fi­cials, the replica’s ap­pear­ance in the port city of Ban­dar Ab­bas sug­gests Iran’s para­mil­i­tary Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard is pre­par­ing an en­core of a sim­i­lar mock-sink­ing it con­ducted in 2015. It also comes as Iran an­nounced Tues­day it will ex­e­cute a man it ac­cused of shar­ing de­tails on the move­ments of the Guard’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whom the U.S. killed in a Jan­uary drone strike in Bagh­dad.

The replica car­ries 16 mock-ups of fighter jets on its deck, ac­cord­ing to satel­lite pho­tos taken by Maxar Tech­nolo­gies. The ves­sel ap­pears to be some 650 feet long and 160 feet wide. A real Nimitz is more than 980 feet long and 245 feet wide.

The fake car­rier sits a short dis­tance away from the park­ing lot in which the Guard un­veiled more than 100 speed­boats in May, the kind it rou­tinely em­ploys in tense en­coun­ters be­tween Ira­nian sailors and the U.S. Navy. Those boats carry both mounted ma­chine guns and mis­siles.

The mock-up, first no­ticed by de­fense and in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts in Jan­uary, re­sem­bles a sim­i­lar one used in Fe­bru­ary 2015 dur­ing a mil­i­tary ex­er­cise called “Great Prophet 9.” Dur­ing that drill, Iran swarmed the fake air­craft car­rier with speed­boats fir­ing ma­chine guns and rock­ets. Sur­face-to-sea mis­siles later tar­geted and de­stroyed the fake car­rier.

“Amer­i­can air­craft car­ri­ers are very big am­mu­ni­tion de­pots hous­ing a lot of mis­siles, rock­ets, tor­pe­does and ev­ery­thing else,” the Guard’s then-navy chief, Adm. Ali Fa­davi, said on state tele­vi­sion at the time.

That drill, how­ever, came as Iran and world pow­ers re­mained locked in ne­go­ti­a­tions over Tehran’s nu­clear pro­gram. To­day, the deal born of those ne­go­ti­a­tions is in tat­ters. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump uni­lat­er­ally with­drew Amer­ica from the ac­cord in May 2018. Iran later re­sponded by slowly aban­don­ing nearly ev­ery tenant of the agree­ment, though it still al­lows U.N. in­spec­tors ac­cess to its nu­clear sites.

Last sum­mer saw a se­ries of at­tacks and in­ci­dents fur­ther ramp up ten­sions be­tween Iran and the U.S. They reached a crescendo with the Jan. 3 strike near Bagh­dad In­ter­na­tional Air­port that killed Soleimani, head of the Guard’s ex­pe­di­tionary Quds, or Jerusalem, Force.

Also on Tues­day, ju­di­ciary spokesman Gho­lamhos­sein Es­maili said Ira­nian cit­i­zen Mah­moud Mousavi Majd had been con­victed in a Revo­lu­tion­ary Court, which han­dles se­cu­rity cases be­hind closed doors. Es­maili ac­cused Majd of re­ceiv­ing money for al­legedly shar­ing se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion on the Guard and the Quds Force, as well as the “po­si­tions and move­ment routes” of Soleimani.

Majd was “linked to the CIA and the Mos­sad,” the Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence agency, Es­maili al­leged, with­out pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence. Both the CIA and the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter’s office, which over­sees the Mos­sad, de­clined to com­ment. It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear if Majd had an at­tor­ney.

Es­maili did not say when Majd would be ex­e­cuted, other than that it would be “soon.” He also stopped short of di­rectly link­ing the in­for­ma­tion al­legedly of­fered by Majd to Soleimani’s death. Later Tues­day, the ju­di­ciary said Majd was de­tained in Oc­to­ber 2018 and sen­tenced to death in Septem­ber 2019, be­fore Soleimani’s killing.

© MAXAR TECH­NOLO­GIES/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A satel­lite photo taken Sun­day showed a fake air­craft car­rier off the coast of Ban­dar Ab­bas, Iran. It re­sem­bles one used for tar­get prac­tice in 2015.

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