Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused President Donald Trump of attempting to fabricate a pretext to attack Iran before incoming President Joe Biden replaces him. Such an accusation seems rather suspicious. Iran may be pre-emptively accusing Trump before the Islamic Republic strikes America, as the anniversary of the assassination of Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani approaches on January 3.
“Instead of fighting Covid in US, [Trump] & cohorts waste billions to fly B52s & send armadas to OUR region. Intelligence from Iraq indicate plot to FABRICATE pretext for war,” Zarif claimed on Twitter Thursday.
The U.S. military did indeed fly two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the Middle East in a message of deterrence to Iran on Wednesday, but the bombers have since left the region, the Associated Press reported. The Pentagon announced on Thursday that the Nimitz aircraft carrier, which had been stationed off the coast of Somalia, would be heading toward its homeport on the U.S. West Coast.
A U.S. official told the AP that U.S. troops in Iraq are worried about what Iranian-backed militias might do in the lead-up to the anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination on January 3, 2020. Iran is planning events to mark the anniversary.
“Iran doesn’t seek war but will OPENLY & DIRECTLY defend its people, security & vital interests,” Zarif warned.
Hossein Dehghan, a military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, also warned the U.S., suggesting America would strike Iran.
“I saw on the news that the Americans are on alert for fear of the revenge [over Soleimani’s killing] and have flown two B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf,” Dehgnan wrote on Twitter. “All their military bases in the region are covered by our missiles. I advise the White House evictee [Trump] not to turn the New Year into mourning for Americans.”
These warnings seem particularly odd, given the removal of American bombers and the aircraft carrier from the region. It seems Iran’s leaders may be planning an attack of their own, and attempting to pre-emptively blame Trump.
To be fair, Trump did blame Iran for rockets fired at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on the Sunday before Christmas, warning that the U.S. would strike back if Iran or its proxies killed any American troops.
Iran-backed militias besieged the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad late last year, sparking a series of events that culminated in the Soleimani assassination. Soleimani led Iran’s terrorism efforts in the Middle East and has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers. His death arguably cleared the way for Trump’s historic deals between Israel and Arab states like the United Arab Emirates.
After the strike, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei vowed “severe revenge,” but the regime’s efforts have failed. Iran fired missiles at U.S. assets, but the country also shot down a Ukrainian plane, killing its 176 passengers (82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, 7 Afghans, and 3 British citizens), sparking protests in the streets of Tehran. Iran petitioned INTERPOL to demand an arrest warrant for Trump over Soleimani’s death, but INTERPOL refused. An Iranian issued an $80 million bounty on Trump’s head, to no avail as yet.
U.S. intelligence reports have suggested that Iran is planning to assassinate U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks, and in September, a former general of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps warned that the IRGC planned to assassinate Trump.
While Iran’s efforts have failed so far, the Islamic Republic may grow increasingly dangerous in its desperation. Before Soleimani’s death and the recent protests, Iran faced protests last November after the country reduced fuel subsidies by 50 percent and instituted rationing, in part due to pressure from the Trump administration after America withdrew from the Iran deal.
Then the coronavirus pandemic came, just before parliamentary elections. Tehran appears to have suppressed information about the coronavirus in order to avoid a low turnout in the elections. Voting fell to the lowest level since 1979, and Khamenei accused the country’s enemies of exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus right before the election.
The outbreak appears to have begun in Qom, the mullahs’ spiritual center. Satellite images from space showing mass graves appear to have confirmed the opposition’s claims that Tehran has vastly under-reported the death count from the coronavirus pandemic. Iran’s opposition party is also mobilizing. It hosted a virtual global summit in July.
Unfortunately, it seems Biden plans to return to Obama-style appeasement with Iran, risking Trump’s incredible progress in the Middle East.
If Iran wants to strike the U.S. in retaliation for Trump ordering Soleimani’s death, it had better strike soon — and pre-emptively blaming Trump seems like an attempt to lay down diplomatic cover for an attack.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.