TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran would destroy Israel and 32 U.S. military bases in the Middle East if the Islamic Republic was attacked over its disputed nuclear program, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying on Saturday.
The Islamic Republic and Israel have been embroiled in an escalating war of words in recent weeks, increasing speculation of military confrontation and helping to send global oil prices to record highs.
Iranian missile tests this week further stoked tension and rattled financial markets.
“The U.S. knows full well that with the smallest move against Iran, Israel and 32 U.S. military bases in the region would not be out of the reach of our missiles and would be destroyed,” the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Mojtaba Zolnour as saying in a speech.
Zolnour is the deputy of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
Israel staged an air force exercise last month that sparked speculation about a possible assault on Iranian nuclear sites.
Israel, long assumed to have its own atomic arsenal, has sworn to prevent Iran from emerging as a nuclear-armed power.
Washington has said it wants a diplomatic end to the row but has not ruled out military action should that fail.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has close ties with Iranian leaders, said on Saturday he wanted a political solution to the dispute, adding: “To the best of our knowledge, Iran has no intention of trying to obtain nuclear weapons.”
He made his comments at a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy after talks in Paris.
Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, has vowed to strike back at Israel, U.S. interests and shipping in the region if it is attacked, threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, conduit for about 40 percent of globally traded oil.
On Wednesday, Iran said it tested nine long- and medium-range missiles, including one which it says could reach Israel and U.S. bases.
Some U.S. facilities across the Gulf are little more than 200 km (124 miles) from Iran’s coast. The United States has air and naval bases in nearby Arab states, including Qatar and Bahrain.
In Jerusalem, Arye Mekel, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, declined to comment on Zolnour’s remarks.
Tehran says its nuclear projects are aimed only at generating electricity. Western nations and Israel fear the Islamic Republic is seeking to build bombs.
Analysts say any U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran would be limited to air strikes, rather than a full-scale offensive with U.S. ground forces, which are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They say Iran could also respond with unconventional tactics, such as deploying small craft to hit ships, or using allies in the area to strike at U.S. or Israeli interests.
Earlier on Saturday, Iran’s government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, warned the United States and Israel it would be “madness and stupidity” to attack Iran.
The United States and five other major powers have offered Iran economic and other benefits if it halts its most sensitive atomic activities, something Tehran says it will not do.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili is expected to meet European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Geneva on July 19 for talks on the long-running dispute.
Elham said Iran was ready for talks in “fair conditions” but would not accept giving up what it sees as its nuclear rights.
The United Nations and Western countries have stepped up sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear plans, which analysts say are deterring foreign investors.
Tehran says its windfall oil earnings will enable it to carry out projects on its own and also that it will find other firms particularly from energy-hungry Asia to invest.
Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari said Tehran would press ahead with “renewed strength” in developing a major gas field in the Gulf, days after French firm Total said it would not invest in the South Pars Phase 11 project for now over political risks.
Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Boyle