TEHRAN — A senior commander in Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard warned that Iran will target U.S. bases in the region in the event of war with Israel, raising the prospect of a broader conflict that would force other countries to get involved, Iranian state television reported Sunday.
Iran also could launch a pre-emptive strike on Israel if it were sure the Jewish state was preparing to attack, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying to Al-Alam, Iran’s state-run Arabic language station.
“Iran will not start any war but it could launch a pre-emptive attack if it was sure that the enemies are putting the final touches to attack it,” General Al-Alam said in paraphrasing the military commander.
He said any attack on Iranian soil could trigger “World War Three.”
He said no Israeli attack can happen without the support of its most important ally, the United States, making all U.S. military bases legitimate targets.
“For this reason, we will enter a confrontation with both parties and will definitely be at war with American bases should a war break out,” he said.
U.S. facilities in Bahrain, Qatar, and Afghanistan would be targeted, he said.
“There will be no neutral country in the region,” General Hajizadeh said. “To us, these bases are equal to U.S. soil.”
The U.S. Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, and the United States has a heavy military presence in Afghanistan.
“In that case, unpredictable and unmanageable things would happen and it could turn into a World War Three,” said General Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard’s aerospace division.
He made the comments amid tension over Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s suggestion it might unilaterally strike Iranian nuclear facilities to scuttle what the United States and its allies believe are efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The Iranian warning appears to be an attempt to reinforce the potential wider consequences of an attack by Israel.
The message is intended not only for Washington but also for its Gulf Arab allies that are fearful of a regional conflict that could disrupt oil shipments and cripple business hubs in places such as Dubai and Qatar’s capital, Doha.
The warning was issued during a major show of naval power in the Persian Gulf by U.S.-led forces taking part in military exercises, including mine-sweeping drills.
The U.S. Navy says the maneuvers are not directly aimed at Iran, but the West and its regional allies have made clear they would react against attempts by Tehran to carry out threats to try to close critical Gulf oil shipping lanes in retaliation for tighter sanctions.
Despite Israeli hints of a military strike, Iran’s military commanders believe Israel is unlikely to take unilateral action against Iran.
The Guard’s top commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said last week Iran believes the United States won’t attack Iran because its military bases in the Middle East are within the range of Iran’s missiles.
Iran has warned that oil shipments through the strategic Strait of Hormuz will be in jeopardy if a war breaks out between Iran and the United States.
Iranian officials previously had threatened to close the waterway, the route for one-fifth of the world’s oil, if war breaks out.
Israel believes any attack on Iran likely would unleash retaliation in the form of Iranian missiles as well as rocket attacks by Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas on its northern and southern borders.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says international diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions against Iran have failed to deter its nuclear ambitions. He has urged President Obama to declare “red lines” that would trigger an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, coupling his appeals with veiled threats of an Israeli attack.
Mr. Obama has rejected these calls, saying diplomacy and U.S.-led sanctions must be given more time and that Iran never will be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.
American officials have pressed Israel not to attack Iran unilaterally, a move that could set off regional mayhem just ahead of the November election.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is in New York to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly and could seek to use his speech and meetings this week to highlight the possible risks — including sharply higher oil prices — if military action is taken.