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2 Feb, 2024 15:31

Iran seeking to avoid military clash with US – NYT

Tehran is currently awaiting Washington’s response to the killing of three American soldiers by a militia group
Iran seeking to avoid military clash with US – NYT

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered his officials to avoid provoking Washington into a direct war, but to be prepared to respond to any strike by the US on Iranian soil, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday, less than 24 hours after a militia group aligned to the country struck a US army outpost in Jordan, killing three American soldiers and leaving dozens more injured. At the meeting, the council – which includes Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and military chiefs – discussed likely US responses to the attack, the New York Times reported, citing three Iranian sources.

The council concluded that the US would either attack Iran directly or limit its response to militias in Iraq and Syria, the sources claimed. 

Informed of these possibilities, Khamenei responded with “clear orders,” the newspaper wrote: “Avoid a direct war with the United States and distance Iran from the actions of proxies who had killed Americans – but prepare to hit back if the United States struck Iran.”

These orders help explain several statements from Iranian officials over the days that followed. On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani denied any involvement in the Jordan attack, stressing that the various militia groups operating in the region “do not take orders from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The largest of these militias, Iraq-based Kataib Hezbollah, said a day later that it would suspend “military and security operations against the occupation forces [US troops],” adding that it chooses targets independently of Tehran.

Iran’s envoy to the UN, Amir Saeid Iravani, then issued a warning to the US. “The Islamic Republic will decisively respond to any attack on the county, its interests and nationals under any pretexts,” Iravani said.

In a similar statement a day later, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) chief Major General Hossein Salami said “No threat will be left unanswered.” He added: “We are not looking for a war, but are not afraid of war either.”

US President Joe Biden told reporters that he holds Iran responsible for the three American deaths “in the sense that they’re supplying the weapons to the people who did it.” However, he has reportedly chosen not to attack Iranian soil in response. According to reports by CBS and NBC News on Thursday, the US will soon launch a campaign of airstrikes against “Iranian personnel and facilities” in Iraq and Syria, which US officials told NBC could last “weeks.”

According to the New York Times, Khamenei has told his closest advisers that open war would carry the twin risks of destabilizing Iran and diverting the world’s attention from Gaza – two outcomes that the Islamic Republic would seek to avoid. Nevertheless, the paper’s sources said Iran had placed its armed forces on the highest alert, activated air-defense systems, and moved ballistic missiles to the border with Iraq.

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