TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's defense minister has warned that the Islamic Republic could strike back at Western warships in the Gulf if it were attacked over its nuclear program, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.
Ahmad Vahidi said there were now more than 90 war vessels in the Gulf -- a waterway crucial for global oil supplies -- and that they had created a "military environment" there.
They included submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers, he said during a conference in Tehran on the Gulf.
"What is the reason underlying the deployment of this many warships and what aim are they pursuing...are they arrayed against Iran?" Fars quoted Vahidi as saying.
"The Westerners know well that the existence of these warships in the Persian Gulf serve as the best operational targets for Iran if they should want to undertake any military action against Iran," he said.
Iran has often warned it would retaliate for any attack on its nuclear facilities, which the West suspects form part of a drive to develop bombs. Tehran denies the charge.
Neither Israel nor the United States have ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the long running row over Iran's disputed nuclear ambitions.
"The Americans have made conflicting comments [on the possibility of an attack on Iran]," the official IRNA news agency quoted Vahidi as saying.
Last month, Vahidi said Iran would strike back at Israeli weapons manufacturing sites and nuclear installations if the Jewish state attacked the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.
Israel is believed to be the only nuclear-armed Middle East state. Iran has often said it has missiles able to reach the Jewish state.
Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, says its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity, not making bombs, but its failure to convince world powers about the peaceful nature of its work has led to UN and U.S. sanctions.