A senior Iranian cleric on Wednesday warned that Tehran would target Israel if the United States harmed the Islamic Republic, continuing an escalating war of words over sanctions reimposed by Washington.
“The costs of a possible US war on Iran will be definitely heavy for Americans, and any aggression against Iran will inflict costs not only on America, but also on its ally, the Zionist regime,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said, according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency.
In June, the deputy commander of Iran’s hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps boasted that Iranian-backed forces in Syria and Lebanon were awaiting orders to eradicate the “evil regime” of Israel.
“We are creating might in Lebanon because we want to fight our enemy from there with all our strength,” he stated. “Hezbollah today has tremendous might on the ground that can on its own break the Zionist regime. The Zionist regime has no strategic-defensive depth.”
In the speech for the anti-Israel al-Quds Day, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Hossein Salami said that “the life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now.”
The US has sold hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to Iran’s regional rivals and has demanded that Tehran curb its ballistic missile program. It is in the process of reimposing crippling sanctions in a bid to force it to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear pact.
In May, the US announced it was abandoning the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposing nuclear-related sanctions, threatening global companies with heavy penalties if they continue to operate in Iran.
In a bid to salvage the accord, the EU and European parties to the deal — Britain, France, and Germany — presented a series of economic “guarantees” to Iran last month, but they were deemed “insufficient” by Tehran.
Khatami also dismissed US President Donald Trump’s proposal to hold talks with Tehran, claiming his administration wasn’t open to concessions.
“Americans say you should accept what we say in the talks,” he charged, according to comments carried by Iran’s Mizan news agency and translated by Reuters. “So this is not negotiation, but dictatorship. The Islamic Republic and the Iranian nation would stand up against dictatorship.”
Trump has offered talks on a “more comprehensive deal” but Iran has balked at negotiating under the pressure of sanctions and has instead leaned on its increasingly close ties with fellow US sanctions targets Turkey and Russia.
The sanctions that went into effect earlier in August target US dollar financial transactions, Iran’s automotive sector, and the purchase of commercial planes and metals, including gold. Even stronger sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector and central bank are to be reimposed in early November.
AFP and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.