‘On Notice’: Trump Administration Threatens Iran
National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s first public statement was a nebulous threat against Iran in reaction to the Islamic Republic’s most recent missile test and an attack on a Saudi warship by Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Guardian reports Flynn on Wednesday said the Trump administration was “officially putting Iran on notice,” although he did not say what that meant. Speaking to reporters in the White House briefing room, Flynn cited Sunday’s Iranian ballistic missile test, which US officials said occurred occurred outside Semnan, about 140 miles (225 km) east of Tehran, and the Houthi attack on a Saudi frigate as evidence of Iran’s “destabilizing behavior across the Middle East.”
When asked for clarification on how the US would respond to perceived Iranian aggression, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump wanted to make it clear to Tehran that “we are not going to sit by and not act on their actions.” Senior administration officials refused to rule out a military response. “There are a large number of options available to the administration,” one senior official told the Guardian. “We’re going to take appropriate action.”
Iran, which has not initiated a war since the early 18th century, has grown in power and influence in the Middle East in the wake of the destabilizing 15-year US-led war in Afghanistan and the 2003-2011 invasion and occupation of Iraq. While the fundamentalist Shia Muslim dictatorship ruling Iran since 1979 supports groups considered terrorist organizations by the United States and other nations, Tehran claims these jihadist groups, namely Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are movements of national liberation. Iran is also fighting in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Russian-backed dictator, Bashar al-Assad, against various rebel groups including Islamic State, al-Nusra front, al-Qaeda, Free Syrian Army, Syrian Democratic Forces, Kurdish forces and others. Iran is a sworn enemy of Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups.
The United States has had inimical relations with Iran since an Islamist revolution toppled a long-ruling US-backed monarchy in 1979. The monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, took control of the country following a 1953 coup in which the Central Intelligence Agency played a critical operational role. The coup deposed Mohammad Mossadegh — the most popular leader in Iranian history, who made the mistake of moving to wrest ownership of U.S.- and British-controlled oil interests for the benefit of Iranians, and ushered in decades of often brutal repression under the Shah.
In the decades since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has endured a US-backed Iraqi invasion in which chemical weapons were used against civilians and more than a million Iranians were killed or maimed over the course of eight years, the accidental shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner in which 290 people perished, US training and support for anti-regime terrorists, cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and assassinations of nuclear scientists, crippling economic sanctions that only recently began to lift under the nuclear deal reached during the Obama administration, and near continuous threats of war from both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington.
The Trump administration has further enraged Iran by including it on its list of seven countries from which all immigrants and travelers to the United States are banned for at least 90 days. Trump claims the ban is meant to protect Americans from terrorism, however, there have been no fatal terrorist attacks on US soil by Iranians or anyone from any of the other six banned nations. Meanwhile, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, which is not on Trump’s ban list; the other four were from countries also exempted from what many critics are calling Trump’s “Muslim ban.” Trump also has business ties to exempted Muslim nations including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The latest provocation against Iran comes in the form of a joint House resolution — introduced by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) — that would authorize the president to wage war “in order to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” However, the last national intelligence assessment showed consensus among all 16 US intelligence agencies that Iran is not trying to develop nuclear weapons, a conclusion also reached by leading Israeli intelligence officials.
Despite this, Republican lawmakers have long called for a US war on Iran. Perhaps most alarmingly, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has advocated a nuclear attack against Iranian nuclear sites. “If you have to hit Iran, you don’t put boots on the ground,” Hunter said in 2013. “You do it with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade or two or three. I think there’s a way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.”
Many leading Trump administration officials also share hawkish views on Iran, including Flynn and Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who called Iran “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace” in the Middle East. Critics in Tehran and around the world accuse Mattis of hypocrisy — while Iran hasn’t initiated a war of aggression in nearly 300 years, the United States has attacked, invaded or occupied many countries in the region, some of them repeatedly, over the past 30 years, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Some experts estimate the death toll of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone at more than 1 million.