– Iran ‘will take pre-emptive action if Tehran feels threatened’ (Telegraph, Feb. 21, 2012):
Iran would take pre-emptive action against its enemies if it felt its national interests were endangered, the deputy head of the Islamic Republic’s armed forces was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” Mohammad Hejazi told Fars news agency.
Iran is facing growing international pressure and isolation over its disputed nuclear activity. Expanded Western sanctions aim to block its economically vital oil exports and Tehran has said it could retaliate by shutting the Strait of Hormuz shipping lane vital to global energy supplies.
Yesterday Tehran launched military exercises aimed at boosting anti-air defences around its nuclear sites as United Nations officials arrived for talks designed to extract more information about the country’s atomic weapon ambitions.
The official IRNA news agency said four days of manoeuvres would deploy missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, radars and fighter jets.
“These exercises aim to reinforce the co-ordination between the military and the Revolutionary Guards for a total coverage of the country’s sensitive facilities, especially nuclear sites,” the agency said.
Covering 73,400 square miles of southern Iran, the manoeuvres were code-named “Sarollah”, a word borrowed from Arabic meaning “God’s vengeance”.
The statement coincided with increasing speculation that Israel is planning pre-emptive air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, despite warnings from Washington and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, that sanctions should be given more time to alter Tehran’s posture. Iranian leaders have repeatedly denounced the Jewish state’s right to exist.
Mr Hague on Monday reiterated concerns that allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb would spark a Middle East arms race.
“If Iran set about the development of nuclear weapons then other nations in the Middle East would do so as well,” he told MPs.
“I therefore do believe there would be a nuclear arms race in the region.”
Mr Hague said he opposed a backbench motion on Iran to rule out military action as it would boost Iran’s confidence.
Five officials from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tehran led by Herman Nackaerts, its chief inspector, for two days of meetings in another attempt to meet nuclear scientists, inspect documents related to nuclear work and visit the Parchin military base believed to have been used for high-explosive tests relevant to nuclear warheads.
In a three-day IAEA trip last month the Iranians kept discussion to “talks about talks”, according to Western officials.
Mr Nackaerts said on departure from Vienna that he wanted “concrete results” from the talks, but Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister, quickly dampened speculation about increased IAEA access.
“No. Their work has just begun,” he told the student news agency ISNA.
The nuclear agency summarised its information last November in a 13-page document drawing on 1,000 pages of intelligence which stated for the first time that some of Iran’s experiments could have no other purpose than developing nuclear weapons.
Its next report will be published within a week and given Tehran’s limited co-operation could well provide further fuel for Israel’s argument that time is running out to cripple uranium enrichment and other sites for a significant period of time.
Tehran, which insists its nuclear programme is strictly designed for civilian use, last week said it had used domestically-made nuclear fuel in a reactor for the first time, as well as developing faster, more efficient uranium enrichment centrifuges.
A semi-official news agency meanwhile reported that Tehran was considering extending a largely symbolic oil embargo on France and Britain, which import only a tiny proportion of their oil from Iran, to other European countries.