Iran announced missile tests Sunday and threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth if the Jewish state attacked it, brandishing some of its starkest threats on the day Europe began enforcing an oil embargo and harsh new sanctions.
The European sanctions, including a ban on imports of Iranian oil by EU states and measures that make it difficult for other countries to trade with Iran, were enacted earlier this year but mainly came into effect on July 1.
They are designed to break Iran's economy and force it to curb nuclear work that Western countries say is aimed at producing an atomic weapon. Reporting by Reuters has shown in recent months that the sanctions have already had a significant effect on Iran's economy.
Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear aims. The United States also says military force is on the table as a last resort, but U.S. officials have repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new sanctions take effect.
Washington said the EU's oil ban might force Tehran to give ground at the next round of nuclear talks, scheduled for this week in Istanbul.
Announcing three days of missile tests in the coming week, Revolutionary Guards General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the exercises should be seen as a message that the Islamic Republic of Iran is resolute in standing up to ... bullying and will respond to any possible evil decisively and strongly, Reuters reported.
Any attack on Iran by Israel would be answered resolutely: If they take any action, they will hand us an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth, said Hajizadeh, head of the Guards' airborne division, according to state news agency IRNA.
The missile tests will target mock-ups of air bases in the region, Hajizadeh said, adding that its ability to strike U.S. bases in the Gulf protects Iran from U.S. support for Israel.
U.S. bases in the region are within range of our missiles and weapons, and, therefore, they certainly will not cooperate with the regime [Israel], he told IRNA.
Hajizadeh added that Iran will soon introduce a new missile that can also penetrate the Iron Dome missile defense system, Israel's Ynet News reported, threatening that if Israel plans any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, They will provide us a reason to remove Israel from the earth.
He said Israel is not capable of attacking Iran since it was defeated by Hezbollah in 2006.
The announcement came after U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey said Friday that the United States and Israel are expected to hold a joint military exercise sometime around October or November, after postponing it earlier this year.
Iran has repeatedly unnerved oil markets by threatening reprisals if it were to be attacked or its trade disrupted.
The threat against the Jewish state echoed words President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in 2005, saying Israel must be wiped off the page of time -- a phrase often translated as wiped off the map and cited by Israel to show how allowing Iran to get nuclear arms would be a threat to its existence.
The EU ban on Iranian oil imports directly deprives Iran of a market that bought 18 percent of its exports a year ago. The sanctions also bar EU companies from transporting Iranian crude or insuring shipments, hurting its trade worldwide.
They signal our clear determination to intensify the peaceful diplomatic pressure, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain -- foes of Iran that face it across the oil-rich Gulf -- announced their own joint air force exercises on Sunday that they said would take several days, their state news agencies reported.