Israel and Iran Trade Fresh Threats

Israel hinted today that it is ready to attack Iran's nuclear program, the latest in a series of growing threats between between the archenemies.

Besides trading ominous rhetoric for the second day in a row, both countries showed off their latest military hardware.

Iran claimed to have launched a fresh battery of missiles in war games near the strategic Strait of Hormuz in a muscle-flexing exhibition meant to demonstrate its willingness and ability to defend itself against an invasion by Israel or the United States.

And Israel put its latest spy plane on display, which it claims can track Iran's nuclear facilities and provide Israel with an early warning of an attack.

The United States waded into the war of words when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran today that the United States would not back down if Israel, or its oil supply, is threatened.

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"We are sending a message to Iran that we will defend American interests and the interests of our allies," Rice said in the Republic of Georgia at the close of a three-day Eastern European trip.

The verbal shoving match sent oil prices upward — again. By midmorning trading, light, sweet crude for August delivery rose $1.80 to $137.85 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The day's toughest talk came from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who told Israel's Labor Party, "Israel is the strongest country in the region and has proved in the past that it doesn't hesitate to act when its vital security interests are at stake."

His comment was an apparent allusion to Israel's daring 1981 airstrike that destroyed Iraq's unfinished nuclear reactor. Several top Israelis have publicly argued for a similar strike to destroy Iran's budding nuclear ambitions before the country develops a nuclear arsenal.

Israel's military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean for a large military exercise in June that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Israel also has expressed impatience with the White House strategy of urging allies to rely on sanctions to convince Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program.

Israel has been unnerved by Iran's nuclear development, which has been accompanied by repeated comments from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be wiped off the map.

Tehran warned earlier this week that if Israel attacked, Tel Aviv would be "set on fire." And it showcased on Wednesday an improved version of its Shahab 3, which Iran claimed can travel 1,250 miles.

That would make the Shahab 3 able to deliver a one-ton warheard onto Israeli territory or onto U.S. bases in the Mideast.

Iran fired off nine missiles on Wednesday, including the Shahab 3, and showed film of a second barrage of missiles fired today.

Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, chief of the Republican Guards' joint staff, called the missile tests a "defensive measure against invasions," according to Iranian TV.

The Bush administration said it could not confirm more missiles were fired today. That came amid accusations that Iran doctored photographs of Wednesday's launch so that a picture that originally showed three missiles getting airborne was manipulated to show four missiles streaking into the sky.

U.S. officials confirmed on Wednesday, however, that Iran is expected to take delivery of the SA-20 missile-shield system from Russia by the end of the year.

Iran's war games are being held near the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway that carries 40 percent of the world's oil supply.

In late June, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, who was then the commander of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, said any attempt by Iran to seal off the Strait of Hormuz would be viewed as an act of war. The U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, across the Gulf from Iran.

The Mideast war games have become an issue on the U.S. presidential campaign trail. Neither Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama nor Republican Sen. John McCain endorsed an Israeli pre-emptive strike.

Both said the threat of a Mideast crisis required the White House to rally other countries to impose tough sanctions on Iran.

McCain also said Iran's missile development demonstrated the need for the United States to build a missile shield to protect against rogue nations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.