Iranian commander warns of retaliatory strike against Israel

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned that if his country is attacked, Tehran would strike back by barraging Israel with missiles and controlling a key oil passageway in the Persian Gulf, according to a newspaper report published today.

The report in the conservative Jam-e-Jam newspaper comes after the disclosure of a recent Israeli military exercise over the Mediterranean Sea that was seen as sending a message to Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

General Mohammad Ali Jafari told the Iranian newspaper that there were strong deterrents against striking Iran including the country’s missile power, the vulnerability of Israeli and US forces in the region and the low probability of a successful attack.

Iran has spread its nuclear facilities over various parts of the large country and has built key portions underground to protect if from possible Israeli or American airstrikes.

But Mr Jafari warned that if attacked, Iran would strike back, including choking off the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow outlet for oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf.

“Naturally, any country coming under attack will use all of its capacity and opportunities to confront the enemy. Given the main route for energy to exit the region, one of Iran’s steps will definitely be to exercise control on the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz,” Mr Jafari told Jam-e-Jam, which is affiliated with Iran’s state-run radio and television network.

In 2006, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also threatened to disrupt the world’s oil supply if the US attacked Iran. Iran is the world’s fourth largest oil producer, and about 60% of the world’s oil passes through the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

“Should a confrontation erupt between us and the enemy, the scope will definitely reach the oil issue. ... Oil prices will dramatically increase. This is one of the factors deterring the enemy from taking military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr Jafari was quoted as saying.

US officials have suggested that the Israeli drill, conducted from May 28 to June 12, was a dress rehearsal for an Israeli strike. But the Greek government, which took part in the exercise, rejected that assessment. And some observers have said the disclosure of the manoeuvres was aimed at getting the international community to step up diplomatic pressure on Iran.

Just before the drill, Europe presented Tehran an offer of economic incentives to halt its enrichment of uranium. Iran has not formally responded. Less than a week ago, the EU named Iran’s largest commercial bank, the chief of the Revolutionary Guards and the head of the country’s nuclear programme as the targets of new sanctions imposed over Tehran’s nuclear defiance.

The US and Israel say Iran’s nuclear programme is intended to produce weapons - a claim Iran denies, saying its programme is for peaceful purposes including producing energy. Israel has a doctrine of “nuclear ambiguity” and has never confirmed nor denied having its own nuclear weapons program.

Mr Jafari also warned that an attack against Iran will also prompt Muslims, including Shiites, to harm US and Israeli interests throughout the Middle East in retaliation to any attack against Iran. He specifically said the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Tehran, may target Israel if Iran is attacked.

“Revolutionary Muslims in the world of Islam will consider a US and Israeli attack against Iran an attack against the world of Islam. Undoubtedly, a sense of divine responsibility will be prompted to respond. This is not something the Islamic republic would be able to prevent,” he said.

Iran and Israel are each other’s biggest foes, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel’s destruction in the past.

Though Israel has said it favours a diplomatic solution to the nuclear stand-off, it has not ruled out a military strike. An Israeli air attack that destroyed an unfinished nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 and a strike on a suspected nuclear facility in Syria in September have added to the suspicions that Israel is planning action against Iran.

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