Workers carry out inspections at a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, in southern Iran, on August 21, 2010.

Story highlights

Iranian military official: We will use "suitable equipment" to punish any attack

Israel test-fires a rocket propulsion system

The events come amid speculation in Israel about possible military plans

Tehran, Iran CNN  — 

Iran issued a warning to Israel on Wednesday, with a top military figure saying Iran will “punish” any threat.

“The United States is fully aware that a military attack by the Zionist regime on Iran will not only cause tremendous damage to that regime, but it will also inflict serious damage to the U.S.,” said Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, commander of the joint chiefs of staff, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

“We, as the military, take every threat, however distant and improbable, as very real, and are fully prepared to use suitable equipment to punish any kind of mistake,” he added, according to a CNN translation of his remarks.

Another semi-official Iranian news agency, ISNA, published a story in English quoting Firouzabadi as saying, “The U.S. officials know that Zionist regime’s military attack against Iran will inflict heavy damages to the U.S. seriously as well as Zionist regime.”

The Israeli Ministry of Defense said Wednesday that Israel “carried out the test-firing of a rocket propulsion system from the Palmachim military base. This had been planned by the Defense Establishment a long time ago and was carried out as scheduled.”

“This is an impressive technological achievement and an important step in Israel’s advances in the realms of missiles and space,” said Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The comments from Iran and the Israeli missile test come as a very public debate is taking place in Israel about the possibility of a military strike on the Islamic republic.

Last week, Israel’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, published a report that suggested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak both supported a strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

That story was followed up Wednesday by a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz that Netanyahu was lobbying members of his cabinet to support a military strike against Iran despite the various difficulties inherent in such an operation. The paper attributed the information to a senior Israeli official, but did not disclose identity of their source.

Israeli and U.S. officials have expressed concerns that Iran is building nuclear weapons, despite Tehran’s insistence that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes.

The publication of the two reports in the Israeli media brought criticism from cabinet members.

“A public debate about this is nothing less than a scandal. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything like it,” Dan Meridor, deputy prime minister and intelligence minister, told the Israeli newspaper Maariv. “The public elected a government to make decisions about things like this in secret. The public’s right to know does not include the debate about classified matters like this.”

Speaking to Israeli radio, Benny Begin, a minister without portfolio, called the public debate about Iran “a crazy free-for-all” and criticized former Israeli intelligence officials for speaking too openly about government deliberations on Iran.

The prime minister’s office would not comment on the newspaper reports and referred reporters to comments he made about Iran on Monday.

“Regional powers who have control in the Middle East will try to ensure they have greater influence on the new regimes – influence that will not always support us or be of benefit to us, to say the least,” Netanyahu said to Israeli legislators during the opening session of the Knesset.

“One of these regional forces is Iran, which continues its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran would pose a dire threat on the Middle East and on the entire world. And of course, it poses a grave, direct threat on us too… We operate and will continue to operate intensely and determinately against those who threaten the security of the state of Israel and its citizens.”

Shirzad Bozorgmehr reported from Iran; Kevin Flower reported from Jerusalem.