- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

TEHRAN — In a marked escalation of a war of words between Iran and its archenemies Israel and the United States, Tehran has threatened a pre-emptive strike against U.S. troops in the region.

“We will not sit [and] wait for what others will do to us. Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations that the Americans talk about are not their monopoly,” Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told Al Jazeera television Wednesday when asked whether Iran would respond to a U.S. attack on its nuclear facilities.

An exchange of threats between Israel and Iran in recent weeks has led to speculation of a repeat of Israel’s strike against Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981. But analysts say such an attack is unlikely because of sensitivity to the U.S. position in Iraq and the fact that Iran’s nuclear facilities are scattered across the country.

Asked about the possibility of an American or Israeli strike against Iran’s atomic power plant being built in Bushehr, Mr. Shamkhani said: “We will consider any strike against our nuclear installations as an attack on Iran as a whole, and we will retaliate with all our strength.

“Where Israel is concerned, we have no doubt that it is an evil entity, and it will not be able to launch any military operation without an American green light. You cannot separate the two.”

A commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted in the Iranian press on Wednesday as saying that Tehran would strike the Israeli reactor at Dimona if Israel attacks the Islamic republic’s burgeoning nuclear facilities.

“If Israel fires one missile at Bushehr atomic power plant, it should permanently forget about Dimona nuclear center, where it produces and keeps its nuclear weapons, and Israel would be responsible for the terrifying consequence of this move,” Gen. Muhammad Baqer Zolqadr said.

Mr. Shamkhani said the U.S. military presence in Iraq “will not become an element of strength [for Washington] at our expense. The opposite is true, because their forces would turn into a hostage” in Iranian hands in the event of an attack.

“America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf, and we can be present in Iraq,” he said.

Israel and the United States see Iran’s bid to generate nuclear power at the Bushehr plant as a cover for nuclear-weapons development.

Mr. Shamkhani warned that in the event of an attack on its nuclear facilities, Iran would consider itself no longer bound by its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The U.N. agency is investigating Iran’s bid to generate electricity through nuclear power. The Islamic republic has agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment pending the completion of the probe.

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