Iran warns it could strike Israel as nuclear tensions mount

55 minutes ago

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran warned on Wednesday that it could bomb Israel if it was attacked by the Jewish state, as the international war of words over the Islamic republic's nuclear drive escalated further.

The declaration by Iran's deputy air force commander Mohammad Alavi was immediately denounced by the United States, Israel's staunchest ally, which accuses Tehran of seeking to build an atomic bomb.

"We have come up with a plan that in the event of possible foolishness by this regime, Iranian bombers can carry out an attack in retaliation against Israeli soil," Alavi said, quoted by the Fars news agency.

"In addition to our missiles, whose range covers the whole soil of this regime, we can attack them with our fighter jets and respond to any attack -- an unlikely event -- with an air attack on their soil.

"This plan is not an empty threat."

Israel said it was taking "very seriously" the threat. "Unfortunately we hear all too often belicose, extreme and hateful statements out of the Iranian leadership," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.

The White House denounced it as "almost provocative".

Alavi's comments came after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned that the world should brace for war against the Islamic republic over its nuclear activities.

The United States and its ally Israel have never ruled out using military strikes to punish Iran for its defiance in the standoff and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday that "all options are on the table."

There has been speculation in some foreign media that an Israeli air strike on Syria earlier this month -- which has never been confirmed by Israel -- was a "dry run" for an attack against Iran's nuclear installations.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to the Middle East, called for diplomatic action "with teeth" against its nuclear programme ahead of a meeting of Western powers in Washington on Friday to discuss a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution.

"We believe that the diplomatic track can work but it has to work both with a set of incentives and a set of teeth," she said.

Iran's military elite has previously warned the United States of the consequences of any attack, saying US bases in neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq are well within the range of its missiles.

The United States and France want tougher sanctions against Iran, which has has repeatedly denied Western claims it is covertly developing an atomic weapon and says its nuclear programme is aimed solely at generating energy.

Washington is working on a new draft sanctions resolution to be discussed at Friday's meeting of the five UN Security Council permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday.

Foreign ministers from the six are to meet in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, on September 28, the spokesman added.

The Security Council has adopted three resolutions against Iran, mostly over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process which makes fuel for a nuclear power plant but which can be diverted to make the core of a bomb.

The French foreign minister pressed the case for tougher sanctions during talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday, but he said Russia remains reluctant to back more stringent action.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that more sanctions against Iran would only increase tensions without resolving the standoff.

Kouchner has also sought to calm a diplomatic storm after his comments on Sunday on the possibility of war with Iran.

"Someone asked me: what does it mean when you say you are expecting the worst? I replied: the worst would be war. I didn't say: the best would be war," said Kouchner, who added that he favoured intense negotiations.

"I am not a warmonger, I am a peacemonger," Kouchner told reporters following a French cabinet meeting. "The worst is war. So we have to avoid it, and to avoid it we must negotiate, negotiate, negotiate."

China and Russia criticised the war talk, calling for more negotiations.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana have spoken by telephone about continuing talks on the dispute, Iran's state media reported.

Larijani and Solana held the last of several rounds of talks in Madrid in May.

In Vienna, Egypt and Syria urged the UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday to pass a resolution condemning Israel, which neither confirms nor denies reports it has some 200 atomic bombs, for possessing nuclear weapons.