TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will target any country where an attack against it is staged, a senior Guard commander warned Sunday, the latest Iranian threat tied to growing tensions over its nuclear program and Western sanctions.
Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard, Iran's most powerful military force, did not elaborate. His comments appeared to be a warning to Iran's neighbors not to let their territory or airspace be used as a base for an attack.
"Any place where enemy offensive operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran originate will be the target of a reciprocal attack by the Guard's fighting units," the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Salami as saying.
The Revolutionary Guard started maneuvers in the country's south on Saturday, following naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil export route, additional muscle flexing by Iran to ward off the prospect of a military strike against its nuclear facilities. Iran has threatened to close off the strait if Western sanctions limit Iranian oil exports.
The U.S. and its Western allies charge Iran is producing atomic weapons. Iran says its program is meant to produce fuel for future nuclear power reactors and medical radioisotopes needed for cancer patients.
Israel and the U.S. have said that all options remain open, including military action, if Iran continues with its uranium enrichment program. U.S. officials have indicated they are concerned that Israel might launch a strike in the spring.
Israel considers Iran an existential threat because of its nuclear and missile programs and repeated references by Iranian leaders to Israel's destruction. On Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel a "cancer" that must be removed.
Iran has been enriching uranium to less than 5 percent for years, but it began to further enrich part of its uranium stockpile to nearly 20 percent a year ago, saying it needs the higher grade material to produce fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes medical radioisotopes. Weapons-grade uranium is usually about 90 percent enriched.
Iran says the higher enrichment activities — to nearly 20 percent — will be carried out at Fordo, built underground to protect it from airstrikes. These operations are of particular concern to the West because uranium at 20 percent enrichment can be converted much more quickly for use in a nuclear warhead than uranium enriched to only 3.5 percent.
A high-level inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency was in Iran last week but did not visit its nuclear facilities. In November, the U.N. watchdog agency issued a report drawing on 1,000 pages of intelligence. It stated then for the first time that some of the alleged experiments can have no other purpose than developing nuclear weapons.
"The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device," the report stated.
Iran denounced the IAEA report, saying the agency has discredited itself by siding with "absurd" U.S. accusations. Tehran said the allegations were based on "fabricated documents."