Iran Points Finger at Israel and Warns Trump Against Aggression
(Bloomberg) -- Iran’s foreign minister accused Israel of concocting a cause for Washington to start a war against the Islamic Republic as Iranians marked the first anniversary of the U.S. assassination of a top general.
Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran had new intelligence from Iraqi sources showing that “Israeli agent-provocateurs” were staging attacks on U.S. targets, laying a “trap” for outgoing President Donald Trump to start a conflict that could jettison his successor Joe Biden’s plans to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord. He didn’t give further details about the nature of the intelligence.
Israel’s energy minister accused Iran of seeking pretexts for violence.
Iran is under economic and military pressure and “looking for excuses to hit Israel,” Yuval Steinitz told Israel’s Kan radio on Sunday. The Israeli military is preparing for the possibility of an Iranian attack via militias in Iraq or Yemen, including holding war games over the last week, Israel’s public television has reported.
Zarif’s comments came after Iran’s military warned that it was prepared to defend itself and respond firmly to any U.S. aggression during a weekend of bellicose statements commemorating General Qassem Soleimani’s killing by the U.S. in a drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3, 2020.
U.S. forces were “vulnerable and in a defensive position” out of fear of an Iranian strike to retaliate for last year’s assault, said Major General Yahya Ramin Safavi, a top military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “We hope that while Trump’s evil government is around, nothing will happen,” he said on state TV.
“The U.S. military has a better understanding of its weaknesses than its politicians. We will never initiate war, but if someone attacks Iran, we will respond firmly and with full preparedness,” Safavi said, adding that Iran was capable of sinking U.S. aircraft carriers.
The comments suggest that while Iran wants to make clear that it won’t hesitate to defend itself against U.S. military action, it does not want to escalate conflict and sees Trump’s allies in the region as trying to start a war and to exploit a possible divide within the defense community in Washington over whether Trump should strike Iran.
U.S. to Move Aircraft Carrier Out of Mideast: AP
On Thursday, the U.S. sent home the USS Nimitz, the only Navy aircraft carrier operating in the Middle East a day after it also sent B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf in a show of force, AP reported, citing three unidentified defense officials. The report said the two actions may reflect a split among Pentagon officials.
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have resurged in recent weeks with Trump reviving threats against the Islamic Republic in his final weeks in office as he tries to derail plans by Biden to rescue the beleaguered nuclear accord and provide sanctions relief.
Trump’s decision to target Soleimani pushed the countries to the brink of war, capping a security crisis in the Persian Gulf that started when Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian officials and military commanders have repeatedly vowed to seek revenge for the strike for as long as U.S. forces are scattered across the Middle East.
The multilateral accord limited Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but since Trump walked away from it Iran has ramped up its atomic activities and said on Saturday it had notified the United Nations’ nuclear agency that it may start producing 20%-enriched uranium. That’s well above the level allowed under the terms of the nuclear deal.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.