May 4, 2006

Iran military plays down threats to strike Israel

TEHRAN (Reuters) - The Iranian military played down threats
by a top Revolutionary Guards commander that Israel would be
the Islamic state's first target if attacked by U.S. forces
over its nuclear plans, a newspaper said on Thursday.

The United States, which accuses Iran of seeking nuclear
weapons, says it wants the standoff solved diplomatically but
has refused to rule out military action. Iran says it is
pursuing only nuclear power generation.

Revolutionary Guards Rear Admiral Mohammad-Ebrahim Dehqani,
said on Tuesday that Israel would be Iran's first target in
response to any "evil" act by the United States.

But Alireza Afshar, deputy chief of the military staff,
dismissed the remarks.

"What he said was his personal view and has no validity as
far as the Iranian military officials are concerned," the
Kayhan newspaper quoted Afshar as saying.

The 120,000-strong Revolutionary Guards corps, formed
shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution and inspired by then
supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is independent of
the regular army. It answers directly to Khomeini's successor,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Islamic Republic has refused to recognize Israel and
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the Jewish
state to be "wiped off the map."

Dehqani also told the student news agency ISNA that
large-scale naval wargames, held in the Gulf last month,
"carried the warning to those countries that threaten Iran,
including America and the Zionist regime."

Experts said the wargames, in which Iran said it had tested
new missiles and torpedoes, were a thinly veiled threat that it
could disrupt vital Gulf oil shipping lanes if attacked.

The United States, Britain and France have circulated a
U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Iran curb its
nuclear ambitions and said they will push for targeted
sanctions if it does not.

But Russia, which has veto power in the council, made clear
on Wednesday it would not support any sanctions or the new
resolution without modifications. The Western draft did not
impose punitive measures.