Washington ‘considered strikes against Iran’
The White House asked the Pentagon to draw up options for an attack on Iran last year, according to reports in the US
The White House asked the Pentagon to draw up options for military strikes against Iran in the wake of two incidents in Iraq last September when mortar shells and rockets fired by Iraqi militias exploded near US diplomatic facilities, it was reported yesterday.
Contingency planning for potential conflicts is routine but, according to the Wall Street Journal, the seriousness of the request from the National Security Council unnerved defence and state department officials.
“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior US administration official was quoted as saying. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
A direct US attack on Iran would risk triggering a conflict between the two nations that would be hard to stop. There are already hardliners in both the US and Iranian camps calling for military confrontation.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, declined to comment on the report yesterday when questioned by reporters during his nine-nation tour of the Middle East, which is aimed in large part at maintaining Arab solidarity against Iran.
Yesterday he flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia, where he is due to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In Qatar, Pompeo provided details of a planned anti-Iran ministerial conference to be held, at US prompting, in Warsaw next month.
“There’ll be a broad coalition of countries present,” the secretary of state said, “and we’ll work on many issues, including how it is we can get the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave more like a normal nation.”
Since John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, became Donald Trump’s national security adviser last April, he has joined with Pompeo in pushing for a much more aggressive stance towards Tehran. Bolton, who wrote a New York Times commentary in 2015 calling for Iran to be bombed, warned that Tehran would have “hell to pay” if it threatened the US or its allies.
That warning came after a Shia militia fired three mortar shells on 6 September into Baghdad’s diplomatic district, where the US embassy is based. A few days later, rockets fired by unknown militants fell near the US consulate in the southern city of Basra.
Although there were no casualties or significant damage in either incident, they raised alarm in Washington that US diplomats could be vulnerable.
Pompeo made it clear that a military response was possible. “We have told the Islamic Republic of Iran that using a proxy force to attack an American interest will not prevent us from responding against the prime actor,” he told CNN at the time.
Last year, Trump pulled the US out of a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and ordered a campaign of intense sanctions against Tehran. But he has reassured European leaders that he did not want to be drawn into a new Middle Eastern conflict, and that he would rein in Bolton.
Trump’s order to withdraw US troops from Syria, where they were near Iranian troops and Iranianbacked militias, marked a defeat for hawks in his administration. But with hardliners wielding influence on both sides, the potential for an unplanned clash remains high, particularly in the crowded sea lanes of the Gulf or in Iraq.
The tough talk from Bolton and Pompeo has added to concerns that Baghdad could again become a proxy battleground between the US government and Iranian interests, much as it was during the height of the sectarian chaos, when a full-blown proxy war played out between both sides across the country.
Throughout much of the US military presence in Iraq, the vast embassy in the Iraqi capital’s fortified Green Zone was a target for Shia militias, which regularly rained in rockets and mortar shells from as far as seven miles away.
Two of the main protagonists from 2007-11, Asa’ib ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, both proxies of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, have gained strength in Baghdad in the past four years, and exert considerable influence across Iraq’s political and security spheres.
Conflict could also be triggered if Iran decided to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran is receiving few of the economic benefits it was promised since the Trump administration abandoned the agreement.
Yesterday, the head of Iran’s nuclear programme, Ali Akbar Salehi, said technicians had begun “preliminary activities for designing” a new method of producing 20%-enriched uranium. This would violate the 2015 agreement, which still exists with other world powers despite the US pulling out, and would escalate tensions with Israel, the Gulf states and the US.
The National Iranian American Council, a pro-diplomacy advocacy group, issued a statement on the Wall Street Journal report, saying: “This administration takes an expansive view of war authorities and is leaning into confrontation with Iran at a time when there are numerous tripwires for conflict across the region.”
‘People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they are about hitting Iran’ Former senior official in US administration
▲ Mike Pompeo with the Emirati ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba in Abu Dhabi yesterday