TEHRAN: Iran accused Israel and the United States of seeking world support for a military strike on its nuclear facilities, which Russia warned on Monday would be "a very serious mistake."
The spike in tension comes ahead of the release this week of a report into Iran's nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which diplomats say will focus on the Islamic republic's alleged efforts to put fissile material in a warhead and developing missiles.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an interview with Egypt's Al-Akhbar newspaper published on Monday, warned against a military attack on Iran and again insisted Tehran's atomic programme was for peaceful purposes only.
"Iran's capabilities are increasing and it is progressing, and for that reason it has been able to compete in the world. Now Israel and the West, particularly America, fear Iran's capabilities and role," Ahmadinejad told the state-run daily.
"Therefore they are trying to gather international support for a military operation to stop (Iran's) role. The arrogant should know that Iran will not allow them to take any action against it," he said.
Ahmadinejad added that Washington wanted to "save the Zionist entity, but it will not be able to do so."
"This entity (Israel) can be compared to a kidney transplanted in a body that rejected it," he said. "Yes it will collapse and its end will be near."
Ahmadinejad's diatribe against Israel, Iran's arch-foe, come after Israeli President Shimon Peres warned in a television interview on Saturday that an attack on Iran was becoming "more and more likely."
He followed this up in comments published on Sunday by the Israel Hayom daily, saying: "The possibility of a military attack against Iran is now closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option.
"We must stay calm and resist pressure so that we can consider every alternative," Peres said.
Responding to Peres's comments, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned in Moscow on Monday against a military strike on Iran.
"It would be a very serious mistake fraught with unpredictable consequences," said Lavrov.
"Military intervention only leads to a multiple rise in casualties and human suffering," said Lavrov.
"There can be no military solution to the Iranian nuclear problem, just like there can be none for any other problem in the modern world."
Iran has so far refused to freeze its uranium enrichment activities, despite several UN sets of sanctions.
Diplomats in Vienna said the new report from the UN atomic watchdog, to be circulated among IAEA members Tuesday or Wednesday, will provide fresh evidence of Iran's nuclear weapons drive.
Previous IAEA assessments have centred on Iran's efforts to produce fissile material -- uranium and plutonium -- which can be put to peaceful uses like power generation, or be used to make a nuclear bomb.
But the intelligence update will focus on Iran's alleged efforts towards putting radioactive material in a warhead and developing missiles to deliver them to a target.
"The report is not going to include some sort of 'smoking gun'," one Western diplomat told AFP. "But it will be an extensive body of evidence that will be very hard for Iran to refute as forgery, as they have done in the past."
Iranian officials have already seen the IAEA's information, diplomats told AFP, and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in comments published in Iran on Sunday that it was based on "counterfeit" claims.
Western officials cited by The Washington Post said the intelligence reinforced concerns that Iran continued to conduct weapons-related research after 2003 when, according to US intelligence agencies, Iranian leaders halted such experiments in response to international and domestic pressures.
The newspaper reported Sunday that the Iranian government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon after receiving assistance from foreign scientists.
IAEA head Yukiya Amano said in September's report he was "increasingly concerned" about the "possible military dimension" of Iran's atomic activities, including those "related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."
On Monday, Iranian hardline cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami warned Amano not to become "an instrument without will in the hands of the United States" against Iran.
"If Mr Amano acts like an instrument without will in the hands of the United States and publishes lies by presenting them as documents, the IAEA will lose the little credibility it has left," Khatami said in an address during communal prayers in Tehran marking the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast.