Israel will "dig own grave" if it attacks nuclear sites: Iran
TEHRAN (AFP) Dec 22, 2003
Israel will "dig its own grave" if it attacks Iranian nuclear sites, the head of the Iranian air force General Seyed Reza Pardis warned Monday, reacting defiantly to threats by the Jewish state.

"The threats of the Zionist regime hold no value for us," Pardis was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency, close to Islamic hardliners, following statements by Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz.

"The (Zionist) regime knows that the armed forces of the Islamic republic, in particular our air force, have such high capabilities ... that it would be digging its own grave in the region if it launches military attacks against Iran," said Pardis.

"An attack (by Israel) would have serious consequences beyond the imagination of Israeli leaders," he warned.

"Whether these threats are serious or not, our armed forces are totally prepared to defend sensitive sites and our country's air space."

Jerusalem-based Haaretz newspaper on Sunday quoted Iranian-born Mofaz as telling Israel radio's Persian service last week that Israel is considering an operation to destroy the nuclear capabilities of Iran, regarded as the Jewish state's number one enemy following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

If such attacks are launched, "the necessary steps will be taken so that Iranian citizens will not be harmed," the daily quoted Mofaz as saying.

"The Israeli regime's war minister must know that if ever these threats become reality, no place in Israel will be safe for the leaders of the country, and the Zionist regime will pay a particularly high price," Iranian Defence Minister Ali Chamkhani was quoted as saying by student news agency ISNA Monday.

But, Chamkhani added, Mofaz's threats appeared "unreal and improbable" to him, because Israel "has full knowledge of Iran's capacity to respond."

Earlier this year, the Iranian air force took delivery of several domestic-built Shahab-3 missiles, with a range of between 1,300 and 1,500 kilometers (between 800 and 1,000 miles), putting Israel within striking distance.

Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami reacted to Mofaz's threats by saying simply: "They (Israel) will go adrift."

Last month, Meir Dagan, head of Israel's Mossad overseas intelligence service, told lawmakers that Iran's nuclear programme posed the biggest threat to the existence of the Jewish state since its creation in 1948.

He said Israel had discovered in recent months that Iran was close to finishing construction of a uranium enrichment plant in the central Kashan area that could eventually give it the capacity to build around a dozen nuclear bombs.

And during a visit to Washington in November, Mofaz warned of the rising nuclear threat posed by Iran, saying that efforts must be taken to "slow down, stop or prevent" the programme.

However, Iran last week won plaudits from the international community by signing the additional protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that opens the way for snap UN inspections of suspect sites.

Iran says Israel should now follow its lead and bring its own nuclear facilities under international oversight.

Early this month in an interview published in Haaretz, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei urged Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal, warning it fuelled a regional arms race.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it has nuclear weapons, but Washington has accepted Israel as a nuclear power since 1969 and analysts say it has up to 200 sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Iran's nuclear installations are based mainly in the centre of the country, notably near the cities of Isfahan, Natanz and Arak. A power plant, which is currently under construction with Russian help, is due to come on line in 2005 in the southern city of Bushehr.

Mofaz's threats recall the bombing in June 1981 by the Israeli air force of Iraq's French-built Osirak nuclear reactor just outside Baghdad.

Then, a dozen Israeli fighter jets -- five F-15s and six F-16s -- took off from the Red Sea port of Eilat in southern Israel, flew some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to their target, where they dropped several 900 kilogramme (around one tonne) bombs, and then returned to base via Jordanian air space.