The deputy commander of Iran's air force said Wednesday that plans have been drawn up to bomb Israel if the Jewish state attacks Iran, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
The announcement came amid rising tensions in the region, with the United States calling for a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program and Israeli planes having recently overflown, and perhaps even attacked, Iranian ally Syria.
On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the international community should prepare for the possibility of war in the event that Iran obtains atomic weapons, although he later appeared to soften that statement.
"We have drawn up a plan to strike back at Israel with our bombers if this regime (Israel) makes a silly mistake," Gen. Mohammad Alavi was quoted as telling Fars in an interview.
Fars confirmed the quotes when contacted by The Associated Press, but would not provide a tape of the interview. The Iranian air force had no immediate comment.
Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar told the official IRNA news agency Wednesday that "we keep various options open to respond to threats. ... We will make use of them if required."
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards released a statement that the nation was ready for a military confrontation.
"Iran, having passed through crises ... has prepared its people for a possible confrontation against any aggression," IRNA quoted the statement as saying.
U.S., Israeli reaction
White House press secretary Dana Perino called Alavi's comment "unhelpful."
"It is not constructive and it almost seems provocative," she said. "Israel doesn't seek a war with its neighbors. And we all are seeking, under the U.N. Security Council resolutions, for Iran to comply with its obligations."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States is committed to diplomacy. But she said "it can't be business as usual" with a country whose president has spoken of wiping Israel off the map.
For diplomacy to work, Rice said during a visit to Jerusalem, "it has to have both a way for Iran to pursue a peaceful resolution of this issue and it has to have teeth, and the U.N. Security Council and other measures are providing teeth."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said, "Unfortunately we are all too accustomed to this kind of bellicose, extremist and hateful language coming from Iran."
"We take the threat very seriously and so does the international community," he added.
Iran has said in the past that Israel would be Iran's first retaliatory target if attacked by the United States, but Alavi's comments were the first word of specific contingency plans for striking back on Israel.
Many in the region fear Israel could launch airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon.
Missiles, fighter bombers cited
Alavi also warned that Israel was within Iran's medium-range missiles and its fighter bombers, while maintaining that Israel was not strong enough to launch an aerial attack against Iran.
"The whole territory of this regime is within the range of our missiles. Moreover, we can attack their territory with our fighter bombers as a response to any attack," the general said.
An upgraded version of Iran's Shahab-3 missile has a range of 1,250 miles, capable of reaching Israel and carrying a nuclear warhead.
Alavi said Iran's radar bases were monitoring activities at the country's borders around the clock and boasted that it had the capability to confront U.S. cruise missiles.
"One of the issues the enemies make publicity about is their cruise missiles. Now, we possess the necessary systems to confront them," Alavi was quoted as saying.
Iran's ambassador to Kuwait said in an interview with the Kuwaiti Al-Rai newspaper that U.S. bases in the Gulf would be targeted if the country was attacked.
"Iran won't immediately strike U.S. bases in the region if it comes under a military strike. It will hit the base from which the strike against it came," Ali Jannati told the newspaper. "But I don't think the Gulf nations would allow that a strike be launched from their territory."
Kuwait has a major U.S. base, which helps supply troops in Iraq. The U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the Gulf, is based in Bahrain, and the U.S. forces' Central Command is based in Qatar.
A top Revolutionary Guards commander said this week that Americans could be found all around Iran and that they were legitimate Iranian targets if the U.S. takes military action.
"Today, the United States is within Iran's sight and all around our country, but it doesn't mean we have been encircled. They are encircled themselves and are within our range," Gen. Mohammed Hasan Kousehchi told IRNA, referring to U.S. units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Ankara, Turkey, on Wednesday, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called for U.N. Security Council members and U.S. allies to help push for a third round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Burns said Washington was "pursuing peaceful diplomacy," and urged Iran to cooperate. However, he said the "responsibility lies with Iran to choose negotiations."
"We are going ahead to try to sanction Iran again, and we hope very much to have the support of Russia and China and the other countries in the council for that," Burns said. "We have very strong support of France and Britain in this respect."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday signaled Moscow's opposition to a third round of sanctions, and praised a recent agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency aimed at resolving outstanding issues.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, and the Security Council to settle the dispute, saying the United Nations wants a peaceful solution.
Two U.N. resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran have failed to persuade the country to suspend uranium enrichment. Tehran insists the program is aimed at producing energy for civilian use but the U.S., its European allies and many others fear the program's real aim is to produce nuclear weapons.
Burns said he would host a meeting Friday with the participation of permanent members of the Security Council "to look at the elements of a third resolution."
Talks on a third U.N. resolution that would impose new sanctions on Iran were expected next week in New York, when world leaders attend the annual ministerial session of the U.N. General Assembly.
"All countries should do their best ... to sanction Iran on their own according to their laws," Burns said.
On Sunday, Kouchner said France had appealed to major companies such as oil giant Total and gas giant Gaz de France not to bid for projects in Iran. He also said France and Germany were preparing possible European Union economic sanctions against Tehran beyond existing U.N. measures.
"The whole trend is away from commercial engagement and toward sanctions whether that's Security Council sanctions or individual sanctions," Burns said. He said U.S. allies and friends Turkey, Germany, Japan, South Korea and India should consider similar actions.