Israel and Iran Warn They Are Within One Another's Attack Range As Tensions Involving U.S. escalate

Israel and Iran have recently swapped threats reminding one another that they were within one another's range of attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as the country's defense minister, visited Nevatim Air Force base Tuesday alongside his chief of staff Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi, air force commander Major General Amikam Norkin and other top air force officials. During the trip, he stopped by a squadron of U.S.-built, domestically-modified F-35s, known as Adir, and touted their capabilities.

"I am on an impressive tour of the air force base. I see all of our weapons systems and planes. Here behind me is the 'Adir', the F-35," Netanyahu said. "Recently, Iran has been threatening the destruction of Israel. It would do well to remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran and certainly Syria."

Israel has conducted hundreds of attacks against targets allegedly associated with Iran in Syria as part of a once-secretive campaign that Netanyahu has increasingly opened up about in the past year. His latest warning to the Islamic Republic came as Israel's only major ally, the United States, and its arch-foe, Iran, exchanged hostile rhetoric of their own and threatened to launch a conflict into which Israel would very like be drawn.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspects an F-35I Adir fighter jet during a visit to the Nevatim Air Base, southeast of Beersheba, July 9. Netanyahu warned the advanced aircraft could strikes targets in Iran and Syria. Amos Ben Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office

As Iran last month signaled its first steps away from a 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump's administration had abandoned completely a year ago, the White House began to warn of heightened threats to Washington's interests in the Middle East and has since blamed Tehran for various incidents such as explosions targeting oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran has denied involvement in these attacks, but its elite Revolutionary Guards shot down a U.S. Navy drone they alleged breached Iranian airspace—a claim disputed by the Pentagon.

Trump initially greenlit a series of strikes against Iran, but pulled back at the last minute citing the likely civilian casualties they would inflict in response to the downing of an unmanned drone. Last week, conservative Iranian cleric and lawmaker Mojtaba Zolnour, formerly supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's envoy to the Revolutionary Guards, dismissed the reports of abortive U.S. military action as "merely a bluff and a gesture of propaganda and media," saying it would have posed an existential threat to Israel if it had gone through.

"I would tell you that if the United States did this, namely, the U.S. attack on us, Israel's remaining lifespan would not even reach half an hour," Zolnour told Iran's state-run Al-Alam News Network.

"We have prepared everything by divine power," he added. "We did not intend to invade any country. Forty years of the Islamic Revolution also shows this, but for those who did invade, we are able to cut off every foot that steps on our soil."

Iranian hard-liners such as Zolnour, who also previously worked on the Iranian parliament's nuclear subcommittee, and Khamenei were long critical of efforts by President Hassan Rouhani's administration to forge the 2015 nuclear agreement with the U.S., alongside China, France, the European Union, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. Since Trump's unilateral exit, these other signatories have attempted to salvage the deal, but U.S. sanctions and Europe's failure to counter them have pushed Iran to suspend some of its commitments by enriching uranium beyond 3.67 percent and surpassing low-enriched stockpile limits it can no longer export.

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An image grab taken from an AFP video shows what appears to be smoke billowing over buildings near the Syrian capital Damascus, following a reported Israeli air strike overnight on July 1. That same day, a leading Iranian cleric and lawmaker threatened Israel's destruction within a half hour should the U.S. strikes Iran. YOUSSEF KARWASHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Iran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons, but the U.S and its top Middle Eastern allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia have contested this. They have further charged Tehran with destabilizing the region through its alleged backing of militant groups in countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and its development of ballistic missiles.

Iran has resisted attempts to curb its missile program, already the largest and most diverse in the Middle East, citing the concerted U.S.-led campaign of political and economic isolation. Iranian officials have also pointed out that, despite Israel neither confirming nor denying it, the country is widely believed to have a nuclear weapons program of its own, as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering them across the region and beyond.

In past decades, Israel has conducted strikes against suspected nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria and Iran has blamed the country for a string of assassinations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists from 2010 through 2012—something Israel too has neither confirmed nor denied. A day after Zolnour's threat and Iran's announcement that it had surpassed the nuclear deal's uranium limit, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned last Tuesday that "Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, even if it has to act alone on that."

Iran, for its part, not only commanded a versatile missile arsenal of its own, but enjoyed the support of militias that have fired rockets at Israel across multiple borders. Last month, Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said his group—which has fought two wars and multiple skirmishes with Israel—possessed "precision rockets that are able to target direct posts in Israel and that would change the face of the region," noting that a U.S. "war on Iran will set the region on fire and won't stop behind its borders."

Israel and Iran Warn They Are Within One Another's Attack Range As Tensions Involving U.S. escalate | World