TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s foreign minister said on Sunday he did not believe Israel was in a position to attack his country over its nuclear programme, while an Iranian general announced plans to prepare 320,000 graves for enemy soldiers.
The comments were the latest in an escalating war of words between the arch-foes that have helped fuel speculation of a possible Israeli attack on Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, helping push oil prices to record highs.
Speculation has risen since a U.S. newspaper reported this month that Israel had practiced a strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, which the West suspects form part of a covert weapons programme. Iran denies the charge.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Israel was still dealing with the consequences of its 2006 war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and was also suffering a “crisis of deepening illegitimacy” in the Middle East region.
“That’s why we do not see the Zionist regime in a situation in which they would want to engage in such adventurism,” he said when asked about the possibility of an Israeli attack.
“They know full well what the consequences of such an act would be,” Mottaki told reporters.
He was speaking a day after the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying Iran would impose controls on shipping in the Gulf oil route if Iran was attacked and warned regional states of reprisals if they took part.
Fear of an escalation in the standoff between the West and Iran is one factor pushing up oil prices. Crude hit a record level on international markets near $143 a barrel on Friday.
Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity. Western nations and Israel fear Iran is seeking to build nuclear bombs. Israel is believed to be the only Middle Eastern state with nuclear arms.
Washington has said it wants diplomacy to end the nuclear row but has not ruled out military action should that fail.
Analysts say any U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran would be limited to air strikes, rather than a full-scale attack requiring U.S. ground forces, who are tied down in Iraq or Afghanistan.
They say Iran could use unconventional tactics, such as deploying small craft to attack ships, or using allies in the area to strike at U.S. or Israeli interests.
Iran’s Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said reports of a possible strike were part of the “psychological warfare” waged by the West against Iran, aimed at diverting attention from “domestic failures” in the United States and Israel.
Mirfeysal Baqerzadeh, a Revolutionary Guards brigadier-general, said that in order to “respect the enemies’ dead soldiers” there were plans for volunteers to dig 320,000 graves for them in border areas.
This would enable Iran to bury “all of them at the same time,” Fars News Agency quoted him as saying. However, in an emergency situation, they would be buried in mass graves.
Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Janet Lawrence
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