msnbc.com news services
updated 5/2/2006 11:03:48 AM ET 2006-05-02T15:03:48

Iran will target Israel first if the United States does anything “evil,” a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards said on Tuesday.

The United States says it wants Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West solved diplomatically but has refused to rule out military action.

“We have announced that wherever America does something evil, the first place that we target will be Israel,” Revolutionary Guards Rear Admiral Mohammad-Ebrahim Dehqani was quoted as saying by Iran’s student news agency ISNA.

The Islamic Republic has never recognised Israel and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the country to be “wiped off the map.”

Dehqani said naval wargames held in the Gulf last month “carried the warning to those countries that threaten Iran, including America and the Zionist regime.”

Experts said the wargames, in which Iran said it had tested new missiles and torpedoes, were a thinly veiled threat that it could disrupt vital Gulf oil shipping lanes if it was attacked.

Israel: Iran a threat to us
Meanwhile, Israel’s military chief said in comments published Tuesday that the world has the military might to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz also said that if Iran does obtain nuclear capability, it will constitute a threat to Israel’s existence. When asked if the world can, militarily, stop Iran’s nuclear program, Halutz told the Maariv newspaper: “The answer is yes.”

Asked whether Israel would be involved in such a military operation against its top enemy, Halutz said, “We are part of the world.”

Western nations have been considering tough sanctions — not yet including military action — against Iran if it continues with its program to enrich uranium, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a bomb. Iran contends it has a right to enrich uranium as long as it does not attempt to use it for nuclear weapons.

Bush has refused to rule out military action in response to the Iranian nuclear standoff. When asked last month whether U.S. options regarding Iran “include the possibility of a nuclear strike” if Tehran refuses to halt uranium enrichment, Bush replied, “All options are on the table.” He stressed, however, the United States will continue to focus on diplomacy.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Javad Zarif called Bush’s refusal to rule out a U.S. nuclear strike on Iran “illegal and insolent threats.”

Zarif said the use of “false pretexts” by senior U.S. officials “to make public and illegal threats of resort to force against the Islamic Republic of Iran is continuing unabated in total contempt of international law and fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter.”

The “U.S. aggressive policy” of contemplating the possible use of nuclear weapons also violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and other U.S. multilateral agreements, he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly spoken out against Israel and threatened to wipe it “off the map.”

'A dangerous combination for Israel'
While Israeli government and military officials had been very vocal in calling for action against Iran, they have toned down their comments in recent weeks, wishing to take a low profile as the world proceeds in its efforts to stop the Iranian program.

Officials from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members gather Tuesday in Paris to discuss International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s report to the council that Iran was in violation of the council’s demand that Tehran stop enriching uranium. The report opened the way for the council to take punitive measures against Iran, but immediate action is not likely because Russia and China are opposed to sanctions.

Israel is convinced international efforts against the Iranian program can help persuade Tehran to back down, Halutz said.

Halutz told Maariv it is not clear if Iran will be able to achieve nuclear capability by the end of the decade, as Israeli officials had predicted earlier. But if Iran does one day possess a nuclear weapon, it would constitute a threat to Israel’s existence, Halutz said.

“When the Iranians will have a nuclear, military capability, then we will be able to talk about an existential threat,” Halutz said. “If they have a nuclear weapon and the rulers speak as they do today, this combination will be a dangerous combination for Israel.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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