Tehran: Iran has said it is prepared to wipe out “Zionists” in the event of a war with Israel, as mutual hostility deepened amid escalating tensions over Syria.
Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, reacting to earlier comments by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanhayu, said on Friday: “If any war happens, it will definitely be followed by your annihilation.”
Marking Israel’s 70th birthday, Netanyahu said in Tel Aviv: “We hear the threats from Iran. IDF fighters and the security branches are ready for any development. We will fight anyone who tries to harm us.”
The ramping up of the rhetoric comes at the time when the region’s most bellicose states have locked horns over the fate of Syria, particularly in the era after the Islamic State’s collapse.
In recent months, Israel has increasingly become militarily involved in response to what it believes is Iran’s growing influence on its doorstep.
An Israeli airstrike on a Syrian airbase near the Syrian city of Homs this month killed at least seven Iranian military personnel in an incident that Tehran vowed would not be left unanswered.
That episode, which marked a direct confrontation between Israel and Tehran, albeit in Syria, demonstrated that the change of dynamics in the Syrian conflict might escalate the risk of direct war between the two enemies.
“Hands are on the trigger and missiles are ready and will be launched at any moment that the enemy tries to carry out its sinister plot against our lands,” Salami said, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated to the Guards.
The senior Iranian commander said Iran could target the existence of Zionists if it came under attack. “North and west of Israel are at the intersection of fire; you will not escape … You live in the dragon’s mouth,” he said.
“The smallest goal would be targeting your existence,” he added. “You cannot bear it. When your civilians and military forces escape, you’ll have no way but to the sea. Don’t trust in your airbases, they are within reach … your miscalculation would be dangerous.”
Netanyahu told senior Israeli officials that Israel would “not be deterred by the cost and we will exact a price from those who seek our lives”, the Israel news website Ynetnews reported.
In February, Israel downed a drone in its airspace that it said was Iranian; this week it claimed to have been loaded with explosives tasked to attack. The Israeli military said its “combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out in Israeli territory”.
After responding by bombing what Israel said was an Iranian target deep in Syria, one Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashed in February amid a barrage of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles. Having lost its first jet in decades, Israel again hit what it said were Iranian targets, this time near Damascus.
Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, providing his government with crucial ground support, thanks to a combination of Hezbollah fighters, Shia volunteers from across the Middle East and its own Revolutionary Guards.