Oops! Iranian forces train to capture Al-Aqsa mosque, but ...

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A flag of Iran flutters atop a replica of the Dome of the Rock mosque at a tourist park named "Iran Garden" which was funded by Iran, at Maroun Al Ras village in southern Lebanon, near the border between Lebanon and Israel, October 4, 2010. Volunteer soldiers with Iran's Basij force recently held a war game in which the 60,000 strong force simulated the capture of the Al-Aqsa mosque, but a Dome of the Rock model like this one was involved. | REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho

TEHRAN (Christian Examiner) – Iran's Tasnim News Agency reported Nov. 20 that the country's Basij, or volunteer forces aligned with the Revolutionary Guards, conducted a large scale war game focused on capturing Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque.

There was just one problem with the exercise, however. The model the paramilitary forces were seeking to "recapture" from Israeli control in the war game, shown in an Associated Press photo, was a model of the Dome of the Rock mosque, the iconic golden-domed structure that sits where the Jewish Temple once stood. That site is roughly two hundred yards from the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The Times of Israel also observed in the photo that a soldier, standing atop the Dome of the Rock model, was waving a red flag, the symbol of martyrdom among those who want to destroy Israel.

The embarrassing photo appeared online with the story until the Times of Israel pointed out the "common mistake" in Iranian propaganda. Soon after, Tasnim took the picture down and replaced it with a photo of jihadists with their guns raised in the air.

The original photo can be viewed here.

According to the Iranian news agency, the war game – featuring 120 battalions or as many as 60,000 men – took place under the code name "Ela Beit ul-Muqaddas," or "Towards al-Quds." Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

"The drill is aimed at exercising tactics for the liberation of the holy city of al-Quds in Palestine," Tasnim reported. The news site also said the force consisted of "often young Iranians" who volunteer to fight for Iran because of their "strong sense of fidelity to both the Islamic system and the religious belief."

The Israeli newspaper also described the level of support offered to the volunteer force in the war game, but said the exercise was "largely for show."

"Iranian commanders have not said how they would be able to deploy large numbers of forces against Israel, located 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away, or overcome the powerful and technologically advanced Israel Defense Forces," the paper said.

The Temple Mount, home to the Al-Aqsa mosque, is a frequent flashpoint between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians control the Temple Mount, but Israeli forces enter for police and military operations at will and especially when Arab protestors throw rocks and bottles down onto Jews praying at the Western Wall, the only original portion of the Jewish Temple complex still standing.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has charged repeatedly that Israel wants to keep Muslims from praying at the site, a claim Israel has denied. Jordan and Israel also recently reached an agreement to add new security cameras to the Temple Mount to monitor for potential acts of violence.

Shows of force directed at the recapture of Jerusalem are nothing new for Iran. On July 10, tens of thousands gathered in Tehran for the annual Al-Quds Day celebration. There, protestors shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." On the same day, the Iranian regime released a new video game for mobile phones allowing users to simulate a nuclear missile strike on Israel.

In August, a video produced by the "Islamic Revolutionary Design House" depicted a vast army of Shiite soldiers marching on Jerusalem.