TEHRAN A top adviser of Iran's supreme leader has warned that in the event of war all ships passing through the oil-rich Gulf region would be within the reach of Iran's missiles, a government newspaper reported on Thursday.
Iran, embroiled in a standoff with the West over its nuclear ambitions, has said it could respond to any military attack by closing the strait at the southern end of the Gulf through which about 40 percent of the world's traded oil passes.
The United States, whose naval Fifth Fleet is based in the Gulf state of Bahrain, has vowed to keep shipping lanes opened.
The West accuses Tehran of seeking to build nuclear warheads but Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer, says its aim is to master technology to make electricity. Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end the row.
"At a time of war no ship can pass through the region of the Persian Gulf without being in the reach of the Revolutionary Guards' coast-to-sea missiles," Yahya Rahim-Safavi, a senior military adviser of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted by the Iran daily as saying.
He said earlier this week that Khamenei had put the elite Guards in charge of defending the Gulf against any attacks and that they would not hesitate to "confront foreign forces".
The comments came amid persistent speculation about a possible U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iran has dismissed reports of such an attack, but says it would respond by hitting U.S. interests and Israel if attacked.
Iran's air force and Revolutionary Guards this week held a "joint defensive exercise in preparation for a potential attack," the state Press TV station said on its web site, adding that dozens of fighter jets and other aircraft took part.
Quoting a Guards statement, it said "upgraded missile and anti-aircraft systems" had been tested during the war games.
On Sunday Iran will parade its Shahab missiles, Iranian media also reported. The Shahab 3 missile reportedly has a range that could reach Israel.
"By staging this parade, we are ready to tell the world ... that we are totally ready to defend our Islamic system and country," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted the commander in charge of organizing the parade, as saying. The Sunday parade marks the start of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Alongside the regular army, Iran's Revolutionary Guards are viewed as guardians of the Islamic ruling system and have a separate command and their own air, sea and land units.
(Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian, writing by Fredrik Dahl, editing by Robert Hart)