TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized Turkey on Tuesday for hosting a NATO early-warning radar system, saying it was aimed at protecting Israel but warning it would "not stop the fall of the Zionist regime."

The Turkish and US governments said last month the radar system would help spot missile threats coming from outside Europe, including potentially from Iran. The system, provided by the United States, is to become operational later this year.

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"This radar system is more aimed at defending the Zionist regime," Ahmadinejad said in a live television interview late on Tuesday.

"They want to make sure that our missiles do not reach the occupied territories, in case they acted militarily against Iran one day," he added.

"We have told our Turkish friends that it was not right to give this permission and that it was not in their benefit to do this... But such radar system will not stop the fall of the Zionist regime."


Muslim Turkey, with NATO's second biggest military, has become a bigger player in the Middle East. It is emboldened by its booming economy and seeks stronger ties with Muslim countries in the Middle East, like Iran.

But Ankara, increasingly critical of Iranian ally Syria, has split with Iran recently over Syrian President Bashar Assad's bloody crackdown on a popular uprising within his country.

Turkey has said the radar system is not intended to protect against threats from any specific country.

Washington and its allies are at odds with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, which they suspect is a front for developing atomic bombs. Iran denies this, saying it is enriching uranium only for electricity and other civilian purposes.

Israel, which Iran refuses to recognize, and the United States have not ruled out military strikes on Iran if diplomatic means fail to stop it obtaining nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials previously have announced that the country's domestically produced missiles can reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf. Tehran says its response to any military attack will be "painful".

Russia unilaterally suspended the delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran after the United States and Israel expressed concern that the Islamic Republic could use the anti-aircraft system to shield its nuclear facilities.

Opposition to Israel is a fundamental principle in Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Ahmadinejad often rails against the Jewish state.

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