Reuters: The Iranian air force will hold wargames during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began in Iran on Tuesday, a military commander said.
TEHRAN (Reuters) – The Iranian air force will hold wargames during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began in Iran on Tuesday, a military commander said.
The exercises will be held amid ongoing speculation about a possible U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, which the West and Israel say are part of a clandestine bid to build nuclear weapons despite Tehran's denials.
"Large wargames of the armed forces' air force will be held in the blessed month of Ramadan," said Iran's armed forces commander-in-chief, Brigadier-General Ataollah Salehi, Fars News Agency reported.
The start of Ramadan can differ from country to country because it is based on the lunar calendar.
Alongside the regular army, Iran has a Revolutionary Guards force viewed as guardians of the Islamic ruling system. The Guards have a separate command and their own air, sea and land units but often work with the regular military.
Salehi was speaking at a ceremony for the armed forces' new air force chief, Brigadier-General Hassah Shah-Safi.
"We have had leaps in the field of air defense and aviation in the past two years … We hope to show to the public a number of locally manufactured warplanes in the current year," Salehi said, IRNA news agency reported. Iran's year ends in March.
Iran is estimated to have 280 combat aircraft, including Russian-made MiG 29 aircrafts, although only 80 percent or less may be operational, military analysts say.
Reports have frequently emerged in the international press about possible U.S. or Israeli plans to strike Iran. Iran has dismissed them but has also said it would respond by attacking U.S. interests and Israel if any such assault was made.
Asked about a recent report in a Dutch newspaper about an imminent U.S. strike on Iran, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told a news conference on Monday it was conjecture: "We are not taking this seriously."
The spokesman also denied reports, based on comments from Israeli defense sources, that Iran had bought Russia's advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system and would get it this year.
According to IRNA, when Salehi was asked about the "negative propaganda" about reports Iran had bought the S-300, he said:
"A long range air defense capability is needed by all countries of the region. All countries of the region are feeling threats from outside the region." He did not elaborate.
There have been conflicting reports about whether Iran was buying the S-300 system. Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said last year Russia had agreed to deliver the missiles to Iran under a signed contract. Russia denied such plans.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer, insists its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity not making bombs. The United States says it wants diplomacy to end the row but has not ruled out military action if that fails.
(Reporting by Hashem Kalantari and Edmund Blair; editing by Dominic Evans)