TEHRAN // Iranian Revolutionary Guards have begun a military exercise and issued a warning that Israel and US naval forces in the Gulf would be prime targets if Iran is attacked. The elite Iranian force's website carried a statement yesterday that announced the military drill, which it said involved "missile squads", but did not say where it was taking place. Iran's guards and national army hold regular exercises two or three times a year, but the statement did not say whether this drill was one of them or if it was a special exercise.
The Israeli military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean for a large military exercise in June that US officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, which the West fears are aimed at producing atomic weapons. The Iranian website quoted Ali Shirazi, a guard official, who said that Israel's coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv and US warships in the Gulf would be among the first targets if Iran comes under attack.
"The Zionist regime is pushing the White House to prepare for a military strike on Iran," Mr Shirazi was quoted as saying. "If such a stupidity is done by them, Tel Aviv and the US naval fleet in the Gulf will be the first targets which will be set on fire in Iran's crushing response." Mr Shirazi is a cleric who represents the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say over all matters of state, in the guards' naval force.
"The first shot by the US on Iran will set the US vital interests in the world" at risk, Mr Shirazi said, according to the website. The US Navy's Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain, is responsible for patrolling the Gulf, the Suez Canal and parts of the Indian Ocean. The Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev would not comment on Mr Shirazi's warning other than to say "his words speak for themselves".
Though Washington says it prefers a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear activity, the US and Israel have not ruled out a military option. Iran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as energy production. On Friday, Iran's top Revolutionary Guards commander, Gen Mohammed Ali Jafari, said Iran would consider any military action against its nuclear facilities as the beginning of a war.
However, Iranian leaders have said they believe the speculation of a military strike is part of a campaign of psychological warfare. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - as well as Germany have offered new talks if Iran signals it is prepared to suspend its enrichment of uranium, a possible pathway to developing weapons. *AP