WASHINGTON – The US has seen increasing signs that Iran may be planning an attack on US forces or interests in the Middle East, according to a US official.
The US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted that reading Iran’s intentions was “difficult and sometimes unpredictable”.
But the indications are being taken seriously, the official said. The year-long anniversary of the US assassination of the Iranian top general Qassem Soleimani is only a few days away.
Soleimani was killed in one US drone attack in Iraq on January 3, 2020, what the Department of Defense called a “defense measure” because it claimed the leader of the Iranian Quds Force had plans to attack Americans. In response to the days of killing later, Iran launched missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq.
This week, the US B-52 bombers, stationed at an air base in Minot, North Dakota, flew into the Middle East in a “deliberate appearance” by US Central Command said, by doing second such show of strength this month.
The US recently accused an Iranian-backed militia of a rocket attack on the Baghdad green zone on December 20, in which 21 rockets were fired. Nobody was injured or killed.
Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister, in a Tweet on Thursday protested the B-52 flights, writing: “Iraqi intelligence agencies show conspiracy to FABRICATE pretext for war.”
On December 23, President Donald Trump referred to the missile attack that damaged the U.S. embassy in the green zone tweeted: “Some friendly health advice to Iran: If an American is killed, I will hold Iran accountable. Make up your mind.”
“We would be happy to see a de-escalation,” said the US official on Thursday, adding that the situation will continue to be closely monitored given the uncertainty.
Tensions come weeks before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, and the Iranian regime has sent clear signals that it wants the US sanctions lifted – something that could jeopardize an attack.
Also on Thursday, the aircraft carrier was the USS Nimitz ordered to return after a 10-month deployment in the Middle East and Horn of Africa to its US homeport, the Pentagon said.
“We continue to monitor Iran very closely,” Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller told NBC News late Thursday in a statement.
“While I hope we enter 2021 peacefully and without conflict, the Department stands ready to defend the American people and their interests,” he said.
Phil Helsel contributed.