TEHRAN, Iran (AP)- Iran on Saturday launched a series of large-scale military exercises aimed at introducing the country’s new defensive doctrine, state-run television reported.

The television report said the military exercise would occur in 14 of the country’s 30 provinces and could last as long as five weeks.

The first stage of the maneuvers began with air strikes in the southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchistan, the report said.

The military exercises come as Iran faces heightened international scrutiny because of its contentious nuclear program and for supporting the guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran has denied Israeli accusations it is arming and training Hezbollah fighters but also has declared Hezbollah victorious in its battle against the Jewish state.

The Islamic Republic, which views the United States as an arch foe, also is concerned about the U.S. military presence in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel’s threats to destroy its nuclear facilities.

The military exercise, involving 12 infantry regiments, is called “The Blow of Zolfaghar,” in reference to a sword that belonged to Imam Ali, one of the most revered figures of Islam for Shiite Muslims. A majority of Iran’s 70 million people are Shiite.

Iran has routinely held war games over the past two decades to improve its combat readiness and test locally made equipment such as missiles, tanks and armored personnel carriers.

See AP piece here (and thanks to “Joe the Dago” for the heads up).  Meanwhile, ex-president Rafsanjani speaks out:

Tehran: A former Iranian president on Friday warned the United States not to escalate its role in the Islamic country’s disputed nuclear programme, saying he hoped the issue would be solved through negotiations.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told a crowd in Tehran during a Friday prayer ceremony that “wise people” should use peaceful measures to solve the problem, according to state-run radio, which broadcast the speech.

“We expect the United States would have learned enough not to enter another conflict in order to disturb security in our region. We [hope] to be able to solve this regional and world dispute in a proper way through negotiation,” said Rafsanjani, Iran’s president in the 1990s who also heads the powerful Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the parliament and the ruling hierarchy.

Full piece here.