TEHRAN: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday Iran would retaliate over Western-backed oil sanctions and any threat of attack, after Us Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was cited as saying he feared a possible Israeli strike as early as April.
Khamenei's defiant speech to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution was the first direct response to tighter sanctions imposed by the West in recent weeks to force Tehran to abandon a nuclear programme it says has purely peaceful ends.
“Threatening Iran and attacking Iran will harm America ... Sanctions will not have any impact on our determination to continue our nuclear course ... In response to threats of oil embargo and war, we have our own threats to impose at the right time,” Khamenei told worshippers in a speech broadcast live on state television.
“I have no fear of saying that we will back and help any nation or group that wants to confront and fight against the Zionist regime (Israel).”
US media reports said US Defense Secretary Panetta believed there was a growing possibility Israel would attack Iran as early as April to stop it building a nuclear bomb.
The Washington Post first reported on Thursday that Panetta was concerned about an increased likelihood Israel would launch an attack over the next few months. CNN said it confirmed the report, citing a senior Obama administration official, who declined to be identified.
“Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb,” columnist David Ignatius wrote.
“Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon - and only the United States could then stop them militarily,” Ignatius wrote.
Panetta and the Pentagon both declined comment on the Post report.
“PAINFUL AND CRIPPLING” Khamenei said any US military strike against Iran would backfire and that the “painful and crippling” Western sanctions would only increase the resilience of Iran.
“Americans say all options are on the table even the option of military strike (against Iran)...Any military strike is ten times more harmful for America. Such threats show that they have no sufficient discourse against Iran's logic and discourse.”
“Such threats show that America has no way but using force and bloodshed to achieve its goals, which further harms America's rulers, international and domestic credibility,” he added.
Khamenei said the aim of the sanctions was to punish “the Islamic Republic because of Islam”.
“Such sanctions will benefit us. They will make us more self-reliant ... We would not achieve military progress if sanctions were not imposed on Iran's military sector ... More imposed pressures mean more self-reliance for Iran.”
“Sanctions are beneficial also because it makes us more determined not to change our nuclear course ... Iran will not change its nuclear course because of sanctions...,”he added.