* Revolutionary Guards commander expands range of threats
* Attack on Iran "would be disaster", more talks vital -
* Iran launches more military exercises in message to foes
(Adds Netanyahu to visit the U.S.)
By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN, Feb 5 Iran will target any country
used as a launchpad for attacks against its soil, the deputy
Revolutionary Guards commander said, expanding Tehran's range of
threats in an increasingly volatile stand-off with world powers
over its nuclear ambitions.
Last week, Iran's supreme clerical leader threatened
reprisals for the West's new ban on Iranian oil exports and the
U.S. defence secretary was quoted as saying Israel was likely to
bomb Iran within months to stop it assembling nuclear weapons.
Although broadened and sharpened financial sanctions have
begun to inflict serious economic pain in Iran, its oil minister
asserted on Saturday it would make no nuclear retreat even if
its crude oil exports ground to a halt.
Iran says its nuclear programme is for civilian energy
purposes. But its recent shift of uranium enrichment to a
mountain bunker possibly impervious to conventional bombing, and
refusal to negotiate peaceful guarantees for the programme or
open up to U.N. nuclear inspectors, have thickened an atmosphere
of brewing confrontation, raising fears for Gulf oil supplies.
"Any spot used by the enemy for hostile operations against
Iran will be subjected to retaliatory aggression by our armed
forces," Hossein Salami, deputy head of the elite Revolutionary
Guards, told the semi-official Fars news agency on Sunday.
The Guards began two days of military manoeuvres in southern
Iran on Saturday in another show of force for Iran's adversaries
associated with tensions over its disputed nuclear programme.
On Sunday Israel appointed a new air force chief who last
month, in his position as top military planner, warned publicly
that Israel could not deal a knock-out blow to its enemies,
including Iran, in any regional conflict.
The United States and Israel, Iran's arch-enemies, have not
ruled out a military strike on Tehran if diplomacy fails to
resolve the nuclear stalemate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu plans to visit Washington next month, his office said
on Sunday, and Israeli political sources said he is likely to
meet U.S. President Barack Obama while there.
Iran's Salami did not identify which countries he meant as
possible hosts for military action against it.
The six, U.S.-allied Arab states in the Gulf Cooperation
Council, situated on the other side of the vital oil exporting
waterway from Iran, have said they would not allow their
territories to be used for attacks on the Islamic Republic.
But analysts say that if Iran retaliated for an attack
launched from outside the region by targeting U.S. facilities in
Gulf Arab states, Washington might pressure the host nations to
permit those bases to hit back, arguing they should have the
right to defend themselves.
The Gulf states that host U.S. military facilities are
Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.
THREAT TO SHUT VITAL OIL CHANNEL
Iran has warned its response to any such strike will be
"painful", threatening to target Israel and U.S. bases in the
Gulf, along with closing the Strait of Hormuz used by one third
of the world's seaborne oil traffic.
Betraying nervousness about possible blowback from any
military strike on Iran, two of its neighbours - Qatar and
Turkey - urged the West on Sunday to make greater efforts to
negotiate a solution to the nuclear row.
Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference attended
by top world policymakers, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu said an attack would be a "disaster" and the dispute
over Iran's nuclear programme could be ended very rapidly.
"If there is strong political will and mutual confidence
being established, this issue could be resolved in a few days,"
he said. "The technical disputes are not so big. The problem is
mutual confidence and strong political will."
He added: "A military option will create a disaster in our
region. So before that disaster, everybody must be serious in
negotiations. We hope soon both sides will meet again but this
time there will be a complete result."
Turkey was the venue of the last talks between Western
powers and Iran a year ago which ended in stalemate because
participants could not even agree on an agenda.
Qatari Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Mohamed al-Attiyah
said an attack "is not a solution, and tightening the embargo on
Iran will make the scenario worse.
"I believe that with our allies and friends in the West we
should open a serious dialogue with the Iranians to get out of
this dilemma. This is what we feel in our region."
Tehran has warned several times it may seal off the Strait
of Hormuz, throttling the supply of Gulf crude and gas, if
attacked or if sanctions mean it cannot export its oil.
A military strike on Iran and Iran's response, which might
include an attack on the oilfields of No. 1 exporter Saudi
Arabia, would send oil prices soaring, which could seriously
harm the global economy
(Additional reporting by William Maclean in Munich and Michael
Holden in London; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Sophie