'Iran, Russia, China, Syria plan 'largest' war game'

Syrian, Iranian media reports say air, ground and naval forces to conduct "Middle East's largest ever military exercise."

Iranian officer looks at Strait of Hormuz 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
Iranian officer looks at Strait of Hormuz 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
Iranian media outlets reported on Tuesday that Iran, Russia, China and Syria are to conduct joint military exercises in Syria next month.
The semi-official Fars News outlet, which has ties to the Iranian government, cited "certain unofficial sources" in its report but did not say what those sources were.
The report appears to have originated on Arabic language Syrian media outlet ShamLife, which said the war-games were scheduled in less than a month's time.
Other Iranian media outlets, including the Revolutionary Guards-linked Mashregh News and Mehr News, which is owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization, also carried the same report on Tuesday, but did not cite any Iranian official sources confirming it.
Fars admitted that there has as yet been no official announcement confirming the war-games, but cited an unnamed Syrian official had declared that a joint exercise between those four countries would be carried out "soon".
Preparations for those exercises would be carried out in the next few days, Fars quoted "informed sources" as saying, adding that the exercises would involve ground troops, air forces and naval forces.
Meanwhile, the ShamLife report said "sources" had confirmed previous leaks about the wargames, and that preparations for the military exercise were being carried out at an "accelerated pace".
According to ShamLife, China had gained Egyptian approval to allow 12 Chinese ships carrying military equipment to pass through the Suez Canal, and that these vessels would reach the Syrian ports of Tartous and Latakia in two weeks' time.
ShamLife said Syrian air defense missiles and its coastal defense would be put to the test in the military exercises, and that 90,000 troops from the four countries would be involved in the war games along with 400 aircraft and 1,000 tanks and "hundreds of rockets."
The exercises would be carried out after Syrian troops had "cleansed" several cities where "armed groups" - meaning Syrian opposition forces fighting against government troops loyal to President Bashar Assad - were gathering.
The Syrian opposition has frequently accused the Iranian regime of supporting Assad and providing his forces with material and equipment to suppress the revolution.
Meanwhile, Fars added in its report that no official sources from Syria, Russia, China or Iran had confirmed the war games would take place.
Fars also noted that in addition to the Chinese ships, Russian nuclear submarines and warships would also sail to Syria.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Russian media said Russian naval officials denied reports that its Black Sea Fleet ship, the Caesar Kunikov (BDK 64), a military landing craft home-ported in Sevastopol, had set sail for Syria.
RIA Novosti cited an unnamed Black Fleet officer as saying the Kunikov set sail for a routine test at a training base and was not headed to the Mediterranean.
According to RIA Novosti the same Fleet commander also dismissed reports in the Ukrainian and Western media reports that another Black Sea amphibious ship was headed to Syria carrying weapons and marines.
The commander said Western reports that Alligator class landing ship Nikolay Filichenkov was heading for the Syrian port of Tartous were false.
Tartous is home to a Cold War-era Russian naval supply and maintenance base, which was established in 1971 and still staffed by Russian naval personnel.
In July 2009, RIA Novosti reported that the Russian Navy planned to expand and modernize its Tartous base, the only Russian foothold in the Mediterranean.
Also on Tuesday, the BBC reported that the UK had stopped a cargo vessel off the western coast of Scotland allegedly transporting Russian-made refurbished attack helicopters to Syria. British marine insurer the Standard Club canceled cover to the MV Alaed's owners after UK security services warned that the company would breach EU sanctions if it insured a ship carrying arms to Syria, according to the UK's Daily Telegraph.
Last week, the US accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to Syria to support Assad's regime, which Russia denied.