ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary James Mattis brushed off as “fiction” Friday an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report that said the United States is preparing to strike Iran as soon as this upcoming month.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “senior figures in the Turnbull government” said the United States is “prepared to bomb Iran’s nuclear capability,” with assistance from Aussie and British intelligence to identify targets.
“Developing a picture is very different to actually participating in a strike,” a security source told ABC. “Providing intelligence and understanding as to what is happening on the ground so that the government and allied governments are fully informed to make decisions is different to active targeting.”
The Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap in Australia’s Northern Territory is partly run by the CIA and NSA, and controls U.S. spy satellites passing over Asia and the Middle East. The U.S., UK and Australia, along with Canada and New Zealand, comprise the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
ABC reported that the Australian government is divided over whether they think Trump is ready to act or whether his Twitter threats to Iran were bluster.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley wouldn’t confirm or deny the report Thursday, telling reporters, “What I can tell you is the president has been very clear about where he stands on Iran… But we’re working with our partners and allies to try and get Iran to change its behavior and stop its action across the region. And we’re working with Israel to do the same thing.”
Asked about the report at a Friday media availability, Mattis responded, “I have no idea where the Australian news people got that information. I’m confident it is not something that’s being considered right now, and I think it’s a complete – frankly, it’s – it’s fiction. It’s the best I can give you.”
At a later press gaggle, Mattis was asked about his lingering concerns with the Iranian threat if the report is incorrect that the U.S. intends to strike the Islamic Republic.
“Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. They’ve done that previously in years past. They saw the international community put — dozens of nations of the international community put their naval forces in for exercises to clear the straits. Clearly, this would be an attack on international shipping, and it would have, obviously, an international response to reopen the shipping lanes with whatever that took, because of the world’s economy depends on that energy, those energy supplies flowing out of there,” he said.
“But Iran has simply got to find that it’s got a better path forward for its people by not being the one to export insecurity,” Mattis added. “They’ve got to start living by the international rules, and we all know what they’ve done to keep Assad in power. We all know what they’ve done to provide missiles and other support to the Houthi — to the civil war in Yemen, to one side of the civil war in Yemen. And I can go on — what they’re doing to destabilize Bahrain, what they’re doing in Lebanon — I mean, this is — this is all well-known, so I don’t need to reiterate it. They are the exporter of instability across the region.”
Mattis said that “nothing has changed for us” on defense policy toward Iran.
“We work very closely, as you know, with — within the combined 5th Fleet,” he said. “And remember, the U.S. 5th Fleet is the combined 5th Fleet. That means it’s not just U.S. It’s got Kuwaiti, it’s got Bahraini, Saudi, Emirati. Routinely, Pakistan has elements operating under the 5th Fleet that are out conducting counter-piracy patrols. So all of these things continue on.”
“There’s no regime collapse or regime change policy that’s been instituted that you’re supporting?” a reporter asked.
“There’s none that’s been instituted,” Mattis replied.
“We need them to change their behavior on a number of threats they can pose with their military, with their secret services, with their surrogates, with their proxies,” he added. “And that includes …delaying the nuclear threat.”