The New York Times reported Friday that the Israeli Air Force conducted military exercises in early June described as a "dress rehearsal" for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The report comes as the West handed a new set of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to give up its controversial uranium enrichment program.
The exercises involving over 100 Israeli fighters were aimed at sending a clear signal to Iran, an official at the Pentagon was cited as saying: "They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know."
An Israeli military official was also quoted by the Times as saying that Israel "regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel."
Iran responded quickly to the report with Khatami pledging during Friday prayers: "If enemies, in particular Israel and its allies takes it upon itself to use language of force, then they can be assured that they will receive a "powerful blow" in response."
Although the EU is prepared for tougher sanctions it has sought a diplomatic route with foreign policy chief Javier Solana visiting Tehran Saturday to give Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki a new set of incentives backed by world powers.
The new deal from the Iran Six - China, France, Russia, the United States, Germany and Britain - recognizes Iran's right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and offers support for the construction of light water reactors, help with supplying nuclear fuel, and a renewal of economic ties with the West.
The package also offers more trade links with Western countries, assistance with Iran's accession to the World Trade Organization, cooperation in regional security, the environment, agriculture, transportation and education.
U.S. and Russian positions
Washington, which continues to insist Iran's controversial uranium enrichment program is aimed at creating a nuclear weapon, has repeatedly threatened to use force if Iran continues on its current path and refuses to give up enrichment.
U.S. President George W. Bush during a recent European tour reiterated that Washington did not rule out military action.
"We have got to work to stop them from learning how to enrich [uranium]", he said on Italian TV on June 6, adding that a nuclear enrichment program "aimed at blackmail or destruction" was unacceptable.
William Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, however, said following a meeting of the Russia-U.S. counter terrorism working group, Iran could have a nuclear program if it complies with international standards which did not include uranium enrichment.
A treaty between Russia and the U.S. on peaceful nuclear energy failed to get the backing of the U.S. Senate over concerns that Russia is cooperating with Iran on its nuclear program.
Russia, which is building a nuclear power plant in the country's southwestern city of Bushehr, said Friday the Islamic Republic had a right to peaceful nuclear energy.
"We have built this power plant and will continue to do so, it is a good example of providing electricity to Iran," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said after talks with Burns.
Iran is currently under three sets of relatively mild UN Security Council sanctions for defying demands to halt uranium enrichment, which it says it needs purely for electricity generation.
Western powers have already warned the Islamic Republic that it may face tougher sanctions if it rejects the new incentives.