TEHRAN, Iran – The deputy commander of Iran's air force said Wednesday that plans have been drawn up to bomb Israel if the Jewish state attacks Iran, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The announcement comes amid rising tensions in the region with the United States calling for a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program and Israeli planes having recently overflown, and perhaps even attacked, Iranian ally Syria's territory.
"We have drawn up a plan to strike back at Israel with our bombers if this regime (Israel) makes a silly mistake," deputy air force chief, Gen. Mohammad Alavi was quoted as telling Fars in an interview.
The Fars news agency confirmed the quotes when contacted by the Associated Press, but would not provide a tape of the interview. The Iranian Air Force, for its part, had no immediate comment on the interview.
Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar, however, did tell the official IRNA news agency Wednesday that "we keep various options open to respond to threats ... we will make use of them if required."
Iran has threatened in the past that Israel would be Iran's first retaliatory target if attacked by the United States. But Alavi's comments were the first word of specific contingency plans for striking back on Israel.
Many in the region fear Israel could launch airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon.
Alavi also warned that Israel was within Iran's medium-range missiles and its fighter bombers, while maintaining that Israel was not strong enough to launch an aerial attack against Iran.
"The whole territory of this regime is within the range of our missiles. Moreover, we can attack their territory with our fighter bombers as a response to any attack," the general said.
An upgraded version of Iran's Shahab-3 missile has a range of 1,200 miles capable of reaching Israel and carrying a nuclear warhead.
Alavi said Iran's radar bases were monitoring activities at the country's borders around the clock and boasted that it had the capability to confront U.S. cruise missiles.
"One of the issues enemies make publicity about is their cruise missiles. Now, we possess the necessary systems to confront them (cruise missiles)," Alavi was quoted as saying.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday said the United States and its partners will move forward with a request for a third round of Security Council sanctions. She said she will discuss sanctions this month with other members of the six-nation international bloc that has offered Iran economic incentives if it gives up uranium enrichment and other activities that worry the West.
The Security Council is not expected to take up the issue before October. Iran has ignored the previous U.N. demands and associated mild sanctions. It is not clear whether the United States can win a third round.
"We believe the diplomatic track can work, but it has to work both with a set of incentives and a set of teeth," Rice said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier held an informal meeting Wednesday with Hasan Rowhani, a member of Iran's Supreme National Security Council who once headed Tehran's nuclear negotiating team.
The meeting between Steinmeier and Rowhani addressed "bilateral questions, Iran's role in the region, and of course the nuclear conflict, too," Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said. He did not elaborate.
"It was an informal discussion," Jaeger said.
Berlin has in recent days underlined its willingness to work on new sanctions. On Monday, Jaeger stressed that "Germany is certainly ready to do and support what is necessary concerning Iran."