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If Israel attacks, we’ll raze Tel Aviv and Haifa, warns Iranian defense minister

Amir Hatami says ‘Zionist regime out of desperation’ threatens Islamic Republic but knows the consequences; Rouhani urges Europe not to exert pressure over 2015 nuclear deal

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami listens during the Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami listens during the Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami on Sunday threatened that his country will give a devastating response to any Israeli attack, and that the Jewish state is aware of the peril, according to Iranian media reports.

“Sometimes, the Zionist regime [Israel] out of desperation makes big claims against the Islamic Republic of Iran to allegedly threaten it,” Hatami said at a ceremony for soldiers, according to English-language reports of his remarks. “It must know that if it does a damn thing, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.”

He went on to say that Iran has all the power it needs to “maintain the stability of the country” and boasted of its regional power via “resistance groups.”

His remarks came after last week Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during an interview with Fox News that if the world doesn’t do something about Iran’s nuclear program then Israel may go it alone. He said that Israel is updating its plans for a prospective military strike.

“If the world stops them [Iran] before, it’s much the better. But if not, we must stand independently and we must defend ourselves by ourselves,” said the defense minister.

Israel has twice conducted military strikes against the nuclear programs of its enemies — Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 — under what’s become known as the Begin Doctrine, which maintains that Jerusalem will not allow an enemy country to obtain an atomic weapon.

Gantz has previously warned Israel would carry out a military strike against Iran, if necessary.

His remarks came after Israel accused Iran of targeting an Israeli-owned cargo ship that was sailing in the Persian Gulf at the end of last month. The explosion reportedly punched two holes in the MV Helios Ray on its port side and two on its starboard side, just above the waterline.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Israel’s regional foe Iran of attacking the ship. Iran swiftly denied the charge.

Rouhani: ‘No threats or pressure’

Also Sunday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Sunday urged Europe to avoid “threats or pressure” in any negotiations with Tehran.

The deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been hanging by a thread since former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran.

Following Joe Biden’s US presidential election victory in November, the US, the European parties to the deal — France, Germany and Britain — and Tehran have been trying to salvage the accord.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney greet at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 7, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

“The best way to solve problems with European partners at various bilateral, regional and international levels, is negotiations based on mutual respect and avoiding any threats or pressure,” Rouhani told Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, according to a statement by the Iranian presidency.

Ireland is not party to the nuclear deal, but currently sits on the UN Security Council.

The Iranian president criticized Europe’s “inactivity on JCPOA commitments” and added that Iran is committed to “preserving the JCPOA and is the only party that has paid a price for it.”

“But this situation cannot continue as it is,” Rouhani stressed. “Preserving and reviving” the deal requires all sides to act on their commitments, he said.

The three European parties to the nuclear deal on Thursday scrapped a draft resolution at the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that criticized Iran’s suspension of some nuclear inspections, a move welcomed by Tehran.

Biden has signaled his readiness to revive the deal but insists Iran first return to all its nuclear commitments, most of which it suspended in response to the US sanctions. Tehran meanwhile demands Washington take the first step by scrapping the sanctions.

Iran on February 23 started to restrict some IAEA inspections. But a visit to Tehran by the UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi just before the restriction came into force led to an interim technical deal for up to three months.

The arrangement would allow the body to continue monitoring “all the key activities,” Rossi said at the time.

Rouhani noted that “Iran still remains committed to cooperation with the IAEA.” He added that Iran is ready to reverse the restrictions “after the lifting of America’s illegal sanctions and it stopping the policy of threats and pressure.”

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