Iran's defense minister warned that an Israeli attack on Iran will lead to the collapse of the Jewish state, state-run television reported on Saturday, in one of the strongest statements from Iran indicating it would punish Israel should it attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
The comments by General Ahmad Vahidi on Press TV come as Israel has recently stepped up its verbal threats that it may attack Iran's nuclear facilities. The U.S., Israel and many in the West fear that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons while Iran insists its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes such as producing energy.
Israel has pointedly not ruled out a military strike designed to cripple Iran's nuclear program, something Vahidi warned against on Saturday.
"A military attack by the Zionist regime (against Iran) will undoubtedly lead to the collapse of this regime," he was quoted as saying. The defense minister did not say what type of action Iran would take in such a scenario.
Israeli officials say Israel must act by the summer if it wants to effectively halt Iran's programme because Tehran is moving more of its nuclear installations deep underground.
Iran has spread its nuclear facilities across the vast country and has built key portions underground to protect them from possible airstrikes.
Israel views Iran as an existential threat, citing frequent calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel's destruction, Iran's support for violent anti-Israel militant groups and its long range missile program.
Israel has shown in the past that it is willing to take unilateral action if it feels justified. In 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor. And in 2007, Israeli warplanes are believed to have destroyed a target that foreign experts think was an unfinished nuclear reactor in Syria.
Iran has warned in the past that Tehran would respond to an attack against it by barraging Israel with missiles. It could also use its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas to launch rockets into the Jewish state, and cause global oil prices to spike by striking targets in the Gulf.
Iran's arsenal already boasts missiles with a range of about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) that were specifically designed for Israel and U.S. targets. The two missiles in Iran's possession that have such a range are the Shahab-3 and the Sajjil.
Iran's military leaders say the Persian state possesses technology to manufacture missiles with a range greater than 1,250 miles, but it doesn't feel the need to do so.
The Revolutionary Guard, Iran's most powerful military force which is in charge of Iran's missile program, unveiled underground smart missile silos last year, claiming that medium- and long-range missiles stored in them are ready to launch if Iran was attacked.
The silos are widely viewed as a strategic asset for Iran in the event of a U.S. or Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities because it greatly reduces the time for Iran to respond to strikes.