US-Iran tensions: Iranian President Ebraham Raisi on Friday asserted that his country will not start a war but would “respond strongly” to anyone attempting to bully it, a day after the United States said it was planning attacks on Iranian sites in Iraq and Syria. This came amid rising speculation over a US retaliation following a drone attack by suspected Iran-backed militia that killed American troops in Jordan.
“We will not start any war, but if anyone wants to bully us they will receive a strong response. Before, when they (the Americans) wanted to talk to us, they said the military option is on the table. Now they say they have no intention of a conflict with Iran,” Raisi said in a televised speech, after the US approved plans for multi-day strikes in Iraq and Syria.
“The Islamic Republic’s military power in the region is not and never has been a threat to any country. Rather, it ensures security that the countries of the region can rely on and trust,” Raisi added, while sources said Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have started pulling its senior officials from Syria.
US backs strikes in Iraq and Syria
Citing American officials, CBS News reported on Thursday that the US has planned strikes in Iraq and Syria in response to the killing of three American soldiers by a drone in Jordan including “Iranian personnel and facilities”. The US had assessed that the drone used in Jordan was made by Iran and named the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-aligned militia, responsible for the attack.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday said the US believes the attack was planned, resourced and facilitated by the Islamic Resistance, adding that Biden “believes that it is important to respond in an appropriate way”. He said the US President continued to weigh his options, but “the first thing you see won’t be the last thing”, adding it “won’t be a one-off”.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday it’s time to further disable Iran-backed militias that have struck at US forces and ships in the Middle East and the US is preparing to take significant action in response to the deaths of three US service members in Jordan. While the threat of retaliation for Sunday’s deaths has driven some militant groups to say they were stopping hostilities, as late as Thursday Yemen’s Houthi rebels were still attacking vessels and fired a ballistic missile at a Liberian-flagged container ship in the Red Sea.
Previous US strikes have not deterred the attacks. Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, Iranian-backed militant groups have struck US bases in Iraq and Syria at least 166 times with rockets, missiles and one-way attack drones, drawing about a half-dozen US counterstrikes on militant facilities in both countries. The US military also has carried out airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The situation in the Middle East
Concerns remain that any additional American strikes could further inflame a region already roiled by Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea, especially when the ongoing hostage talks are showing signs of progress.
A senior Hamas official on Friday said the group will respond “very soon” to a proposal that includes extended pauses in Gaza fighting and phased exchanges of Hamas-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. However, one of Iraq’s strongest Iran-backed militias, Harakat al-Nujaba, announced its plans on Friday to continue military operations against US troops.
Iran on Wednesday threatened to decisively respond” to any US attack on the Islamic Republic following Biden’s promises of ‘revenge’ after the Jordan drone attack. Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, said, “The Islamic Republic would decisively respond to any attack on the country, its interests and nationals under any pretexts.”
(with inputs from agencies)