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Report: Iran mulls 'pre-emptive attack' against Israel; commander warns of 'World War III'

Updated at 4:46 a.m. ET: Iran could launch a pre-emptive strike on Israel if it was sure the Jewish state were preparing to attack it, a senior commander of its elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, made the comments to Iran's state-run Arabic language Al-Alam television, according to a report on the network's website.

"Iran will not start any war but it could launch a pre-emptive attack if it was sure that the enemies are putting the final touches to attack it," Al-Alam said, paraphrasing the military commander.

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Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard's aerospace division, said any attack on Iranian soil could trigger "World War III."

"We cannot imagine the Zionist regime starting a war without America's support. Therefore, in case of a war, we will get into a war with both of them and we will certainly get into a conflict with American bases," he said. "In that case, unpredictable and unmanageable things would happen and it could turn into a World War III."

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U.S. facilities in Bahrain, Qatar and Afghanistan would be targeted, he added. 

"There will be no neutral country in the region," Hajizadeh was quoted as saying. "To us, these bases are equal to U.S. soil."

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The U.S. Fifth fleet is based in Bahrain and the U.S. has a heavy military presence in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials reportedly suspect Iran is behind a string of recent cyber attacks that were aimed at major U.S. banks. Jim Finkle of Reuters has more on the story.

The Iranian warning appears an attempt to reinforce the potential wider consequences of an attack by Israel. The message is not only intended for Washington, but to its Gulf Arab allies that are fearful of a regional conflict that could disrupt oil shipment and cripple business hubs in places such as Dubai and Qatar's capital Doha.

It also comes during a major show of naval power in the Gulf by U.S.-led forces taking part in military exercises, including mine-sweeping drills. The U.S. Navy claims the maneuvers are not directly aimed at Iran, but the West and its regional allies have made clear they would react against attempts by Tehran to carry out threats to try to close critical Gulf oil shipping lanes in retaliation for tighter sanctions.

Friction mounts as Israel asks that U.S. give Iran an ultimatum; a tricky position for Obama, whose foreign policy has been lauded. NBC's Andrea Mitchell and CNBC's John Harwood report.

Despite Israeli hints of a military strike, Iran's military commanders believe Israel is unlikely to take unilateral action against Iran. The Guard's top commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said last week that Iran believes the United States won't attack Iran because its military bases in the Middle East are within the range of Iran's missiles.

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Iran has also warned that oil shipments through the strategic Strait of Hormuz will be in jeopardy if a war breaks out between Iran and the United States. Iranian officials have previously threatened to close the waterway, the route for a fifth of the world's oil, if there is war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses the "danger of not acting" in the era of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran.

Israel believes that any attack on Iran would likely unleash retaliation in the form of Iranian missiles as well as rocket attacks by Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas on its northern and southern borders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made increasing hints that Israel could strike Iran's nuclear sites and has criticized President Barack Obama's position that sanctions and diplomacy should be given more time to stop Iran getting the atomic bomb.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice explains the extent of Iran's nuclear capabilities, including the U.S. plan for response to such an incident.

Tehran denied it is seeking weapons capability and says its atomic work is peaceful, aimed at generating electricity.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is currently in New York to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly and could seek to use his speech and meetings later this week to highlight the possible risks — including sharply higher oil prices — if military action is taken.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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