TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will respond to any military attack from Israel by “eliminating” the Jewish state, a senior army commander said on Tuesday.
Deputy commander-in-chief Mohammad Reza Ashtiani was echoing Iran’s late leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who said Israel should be wiped off the map.
Some analysts have speculated that Israel might attack Iran to stop its nuclear activities, which the West fears are a front for weapons development. Iran, which does not recognize Israel, insists it wants nuclear technology only for electricity.
“If Israel wants to take any action against the Islamic Republic, we will eliminate Israel from the scene of the universe,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Ashtiani as saying. “Our answer to any military attack against Iran will be strong.”
The U.S. State Department said the comments showed the international community was right to sanction Iran.
It is “more unbelievable rhetoric out of the leadership of the Iranian government about attacking a fellow member of the United Nations,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. “Any civilized person finds that disturbing.”
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak did not respond directly to the remarks but said Israel was pressing ahead with its efforts to counter any Iranian nuclear threat.
Barak told reporters at an air base in central Israel that there remained much to do in “intelligence, in prevention and in formulating diplomatic and practical sanctions.”
“We have to prepare, and if there’s a need, to take action, not just to talk idly,” he said, in apparent reference to reported remarks last week by cabinet minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer that Israel would destroy Iran if attacked.
Opposition to Israel is a fundamental principle in Shi’ite Iran, which backs Palestinian militants opposed to peace with the Jewish state but says it offers only moral support.
A 2005 statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying that “Israel should be wiped off the map” outraged the international community.
Washington says it wants a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear dispute but has not ruled out military action if that fails. Tehran insists it will not bow to Western pressure.
Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, says it has developed ballistic missiles able to hit Israel and U.S. bases in the region.
Israel’s Defence Ministry has announced the successful test of the “Blue Sparrow,” a missile that will serve as a target for tests of its Arrow anti-ballistic missile system.
Israeli media have reported that the target missile would simulate the ballistic trajectory of Iran’s Shehab-3 missile, which Israel fears could carry a nuclear warhead.
Tehran’s failure to convince world powers of its peaceful nuclear intentions has prompted three rounds of U.N. sanctions, and the United States is pushing for another, tougher set of penalties.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany are due to meet on April 16 in Shanghai to discuss whether to sweeten incentives offered to Iran in 2006 to curb its nuclear work.
Additional reporting by Jerusalem bureau and David Morgan in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham