Iran would take preemptive action against its enemies if it felt its national interests were endangered, the deputy head of the Islamic Republic’s armed forces was quoted by a semi-official news agency as saying on Tuesday.
“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” Mohammad Hejazi told the Fars news agency.
“We do not wait for enemies to take action against us,” says Hejazi, who heads the military’s logistical wing. “We will use all our means to protect our national interests.”
Iran is facing growing international pressure and isolation over its disputed nuclear activity. Expanded Western sanctions aim to block its economically vital oil exports and Tehran has said it could retaliate by shutting the Straits of Hormuz shipping lane, which is vital to the global energy supply.
Still, a top U.S. intelligence official said last week that while U.S. spy services believed Iran would respond if attacked, they thought it was unlikely to start a conflict.
Israel and the United States do not rule out military action against Iran and its nuclear program if sanctions and diplomacy fail to rein in its nuclear energy campaign, which they say is aimed at developing weapons technology. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
Senior UN inspectors have begun their second round of talks in Tehran in three weeks, seeking Iranian explanations with respect to intelligence about “possible military dimensions” to the Iranian nuclear program.
Iran denies Western accusations that it is covertly seeking the means to build nuclear weapons and in recent weeks has again vowed no nuclear retreat, but also voiced willingness to resume negotiations with world powers without preconditions.
Iran says it is enriching uranium solely as fuel for a future network of nuclear power stations, not for bombs.
The European Union enraged Tehran last month when it decided to slap a boycott on its oil to take full effect on July 1.
On Sunday, Iran’s oil ministry announced a retaliatory halt in oil sales to French and British companies, though that step will be largely symbolic as those firms had already greatly reduced purchases of Iranian crude.
On Monday, the European Commission said Belgium, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands had already stopped buying Iranian oil, while Greece, Spain and Italy were cutting back purchases.
Tighter sanctions including the pending embargo on Iranian oil imports into the EU have helped push oil prices up to $119 a barrel from $107 at the start of the year.
Iranian warships in Syrian ports?
As the Syrian regime continues its attacks on its own citizens, two Iranian warships suspected of having delivered weapons to the Syrian regime left the Syrian coastal town of Tartous and were headed back to Iran through Egypt’s Suez Canal, a source at the strategic waterway said on Tuesday.
Activists based in Lebanon said the warships, which arrived in Tartous at the weekend, had delivered “sophisticated weapons and tapping equipment to help the Syrian authorities trace activists and opposition figures.”
But the Pentagon is disputing the reports that Iranian ships docked at a Syrian port over the weekend, claims that added to tension in the region.
Iranian state-run Press TV said Saturday that an Iranian navy destroyer and a supply ship had docked in the port of Tartous to provide training to ally Syria’s naval forces, as Syria presses its effort to crush the opposition movement.
Defense Department press secretary George Little said on Tuesday that the U.S.−military saw no indication that the ships had docked, nor had they delivered any cargo. Little said Tehran’s ships went through the Suez Canal and now appear to be going back through the canal again.
With Shi’te-led Iran already at odds with the United States, Europe and Israel over its nuclear program, the deployment of the warships could fan concerns that the Syria crisis might boil over into a regional conflict if it not resolved soon.
Instead, Little said there appeared to be nothing “particularly noteworthy” about the latest deployment of the warships. “It seems this was a relatively routine transit through the (Suez) Canal and now, apparently, back,” he said.
Meanwhile, Syrian troops killed at least 100 people, opposition activists said, mainly in the provinces of Homs and Idlib, as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for a daily two-hour ceasefire to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. The death toll, which climbed from 56 to 100 following a fierce bombardment by government forces, was reported by the Local Coordination Committees, which has activists across the country and at the northern border with Lebanon.
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