Israeli attack would be countered, Iranian says
A senior Iranian military official said Wednesday that his country had drawn up plans to launch airstrikes against Israel in case of war between the two nations, according to an interview published by an Iranian news agency.
Gen. Mohammed Alavi, a deputy commander in the Iranian air force, told the semiofficial Fars News Agency that his country could attack Israel with long-range missiles as well as fighter planes.
Israeli and U.S. officials have suggested possible preemptive attacks on Iran to block it from obtaining advanced nuclear technology that could be used to build atomic weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is meant to augment civilian energy needs.
Military analysts say Iran could retaliate against any U.S. or Israeli air raids by hitting targets in the Persian Gulf, disrupting oil shipments or launching attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Iran’s military leaders have frequently said they would strike back against the U.S. if attacked. But Alavi’s detailed public assertion that an Israeli attack on Iran would prompt retaliation on Israel itself was more unusual.
“Such a plan is not just a hollow threat, and we do everything on the basis of correct and precise planning and we have gained the needed readiness,” he said, according to the news agency. “We can also attack them by our fighter planes and respond to their possible airstrikes.”
Israel fears that a newly emboldened Iranian regime, empowered by the U.S. overthrow of its enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan and vehemently anti-Israel, threatens the future of the Jewish state.
“Unfortunately, we see these bellicose, hateful and extremist statements coming out of Tehran on an almost regular basis,” said Mark Regev, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. “We take these threats seriously, as does the international community.”
Alavi said that he didn’t think Israel would attack Iran. But he said that Iran has cruise missiles to strike back at attackers and sophisticated air defense systems to counter fighter jets. He maintained that any enemy air force would lose 30% of its fighters during an air operation.
Some observers believe Israel is already well into preparations for airstrikes on Iranian nuclear sites. Officials close to the leadership in Damascus, the Syrian capital, said this week that they believed an incursion into Syrian airspace by Israeli fighter jets Sept. 6 was meant to test air defenses for a possible attack route from Israel to Iran.
“It is widely believed here that the Israeli move was coordinated with the Americans and probably aimed at finding the most practical corridor to Iran,” said a Western diplomat in Damascus who is in contact with the Syrian government. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The diplomat said Syrian officials had photographs purporting to show that the Israeli aircraft fired missiles into an empty area, contradicting news reports quoting unnamed U.S. and Israeli officials alleging that the target was a nuclear site.
Some analysts in Iran dismissed Alavi as a mid-ranking figure making boastful remarks. Mohammed Marandi, a political analyst close to Iran’s liberal-leaning reformist camp, said the comments were meant defensively, to ward off the possibility of an Israeli attack.
“It is working as deterrence to any attack,” he said. “At the same time it shows Iran is powerful and can exercise her power.”
Israel lies about 560 miles from Iran’s western edge. Iran’s Shahab-class missiles, based on a North Korean design, could easily reach Israel, military experts say.
Israel and the United States, along with allies in Europe, are locked in a war of words and military posturing with Iran, which seeks the capability to enrich uranium despite the opposition of the United Nations Security Council. Enriched uranium can be used to fuel a nuclear power plant or, if highly concentrated, build a bomb.
The international diplomatic row has been heightened by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s remarks Sunday, when he said that the world should prepare for the possibility of war with Iran. He was chastised by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as by the foreign minister of Russia, which strongly opposes any military action against Iran, and subsequently softened his rhetoric.
The nuclear issue has raised tensions here in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, causing the price of crude to reach record highs. Newspapers in the area’s pro-American monarchies also criticized Kouchner and said that any U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran would be disastrous for the region.
“The region had thought the issue of whether to hit Iran or not was over,” said an editorial Tuesday in the Gulf News, a daily newspaper based in Dubai.
“We just cannot afford another war.”
Some Western analysts have discounted the possibility of a U.S.-led or -sanctioned war against Iran, arguing that the American military is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Alavi also discounted Israel’s rhetoric against Iran “as just psychological warfare.”
Times staff writer Ken Ellingwood in Jerusalem and special correspondents Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Ziad Haidar in Damascus contributed to this report.