Iran threatens to hit any country used to attack its soil

Clerics of Iran's army talk to one another as they stand in front of Hawk surface-to-air missiles in this 2009 file photo.

TEHRAN - Iran will target any country used as a launchpad for attacks against its soil, the deputy Revolutionary Guards commander said, expanding Tehran's range of threats in an increasingly volatile stand-off with world powers over its nuclear ambitions.

Last week, Iran's supreme clerical leader threatened reprisals for the West's new ban on Iranian oil exports and the US defense secretary was quoted as saying Israel was likely to bomb Iran within months to stop it assembling nuclear weapons.

Although broadened and sharpened financial sanctions have begun to inflict serious economic pain in Iran, its oil minister asserted Saturday it would make no nuclear retreat even if its crude oil exports ground to a halt.

Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes. But its recent shift of uranium enrichment to a mountain bunker possibly impervious to conventional bombing, and refusal to negotiate peaceful guarantees for the program or open up to UN nuclear inspectors, have thickened an atmosphere of brewing confrontation, raising fears for Gulf oil supplies.

"Any spot used by the enemy for hostile operations against Iran will be subjected to retaliatory aggression by our armed forces," Hossein Salami, deputy head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, told the semi-official Fars news agency Sunday.

The Guards began two days of military maneuvers in southern Iran Saturday in another show of force for Iran's adversaries associated with tensions over its disputed nuclear program.

Sunday Israel appointed a new air force chief who last month, in his position as top military planner, warned publicly that Israel could not deal a knock-out blow to its enemies, including Iran, in any regional conflict.

The United States and Israel, Iran's arch-enemies, have not ruled out a military strike on Tehran if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear stalemate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to visit Washington next month, his office said Sunday, and Israeli political sources said he is likely to meet US President Barack Obama while there.

Iran's Salami did not identify which countries he meant as possible hosts for military action against it.

The six, US-allied Arab states in the Gulf Cooperation Council, situated on the other side of the vital oil exporting waterway from Iran, have said they would not allow their territories to be used for attacks on the Islamic Republic.

But analysts say that if Iran retaliated for an attack launched from outside the region by targeting US facilities in Gulf Arab states, Washington might pressure the host nations to permit those bases to hit back, arguing they should have the right to defend themselves.

The Gulf states that host US military facilities are Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

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