TEHRAN — Paramilitary forces from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard held a war game simulating the capture of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the holy site that has been at the center of the tensions in Israel and the West Bank.
Iranian state media on Saturday said the forces stormed and “liberated” a replica of the mosque in the exercise. It said thousands of members of the Basij, the paramilitary unit of the Guard, participated in the exercise outside the holy city of Qom in central Iran.
The symbolic operations were backed up by Guard helicopters, drones and planes that bombed hypothetical enemy positions before ground troops captured the replica of the mosque. Official photos showed one of the troops going to the top of the dome and waving an Iranian flag and a red flag, a symbol of martyrdom.
The hilltop compound, which is holy to Jews and Muslims, has been at the heart of weeks of unrest between Israel and the Palestinians. Muslims call the site the Noble Sanctuary, and the mosque is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Jews revere the spot as the Temple Mount, home to the biblical Temples and the holiest site in Judaism.
Iran, a sworn enemy to Israel, frequently expresses solidarity with the Palestinians and holds an annual “Jerusalem Day” each year on the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan. Iran does not recognize Israel, has called for its destruction and supports anti-Israel militants across the Middle East.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the war games.
On Tuesday, Israel outlawed a leading Islamic group it accused of inciting Arabs to violence, in part over the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli government says the northern branch of the Islamic Movement is affiliated with the regionwide Muslim Brotherhood organization, has ties to the Palestinian militant Hamas group and is committed to Israel’s destruction to make way for a transnational Islamic “caliphate.”
A number of deadly confrontations has occurred between Palestinians and Israelis over the past two months.
On Saturday, four people were wounded in a stabbing attack in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Gat in what police said bore the hallmarks of previous stabbings by Palestinians. Police continue to look for the assailants.
In similar incidents over the past seven weeks, 18 Israelis and others have died, and 80 Palestinians have been killed.