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Iranian Military: Comments Israel Would Be First Target Have No Validity

The Iranian military on Wednesday rejected a statement from a top Revolutionary Guards commander that Israel would be Iran's first target in response to any U.S. attack, an Iranian news agency reported.

Brig. Gen. Alireza Afshar, deputy to the chief of Iran's military staff, said the statement by Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghani "is his personal view and has no validity as far as the Iranian military officials are concerned," according to the Entekhab News Agency.

A translation of Afshar's remarks was provided to The Associated Press.

Dehghani was quoted by the Iranian Student News Agency on Tuesday as saying: "We have announced that wherever (in Iran) America does make any mischief, the first place we target will be Israel."

His threat came after the Iranian president's call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and added to international concerns over Iran's suspect nuclear program.

Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres reacted to Dehghani's warning with a call for Iran to scrap its nuclear program and a warning of his own: "Remember that Israel is exceptionally strong and knows how to defend itself."

The Entekhab News Agency said Afshar was asked about Dehghani's comment at a book exhibition in Tehran.

"Mr. Dehghani was the spokesman of a military maneuver which ended on April 8, and his statement is his personal view and has no validity as far as the Iranian military officials are concerned," Afshar was quoted as saying.

Dehghani, who served as a spokesman during a large-scale war game by Iran's Revolutionary Guards last month, was described in the Iranian Student News Agency report as a general and by Entekhab as a rear admiral.

Dehghani told the Student News Agency that the military exercises were held ahead of schedule to send a message to the United States and its allies that they shouldn't plan any military strikes during their faceoff with the Tehran regime over its nuclear ambitions.

President Bush has said a military option remains on the table if Iran does not agree to international demands to stop enriching uranium and open its nuclear program to intrusive inspections. But Bush has stressed that Washington wants to solve the dispute through diplomacy.

The United States, Britain and France are expected to circulate a Security Council resolution making mandatory the council's earlier demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment. They want the resolution adopted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which would mean it could be enforced by sanctions or military action.

But Russia and China, while concerned about Iran's nuclear program, say there is no evidence that Tehran is trying to produce nuclear weapons and oppose putting the resolution under Chapter 7.