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U.S. and Iran Locked in a Dangerous Game of Brinkmanship

  • Raisi's comments highlight Iran's stance on defense and readiness to respond to aggression, amidst increased diplomatic efforts and military display.
  • The U.S. conducted air strikes on Iranian-linked sites in retaliation for attacks on American troops, signaling heightened tensions between the two nations.
  • Despite the threat of conflict, both Iran and the U.S. express a preference for diplomatic resolutions, with ongoing discussions on de-escalation and security in the Middle East.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has said during a trip to an impoverished southern region that Tehran is not looking for military conflict but would respond forcefully to any country that threatens the Islamic republic.

"We will not start any war, but if anyone wants to bully us, they will receive a strong response," Raisi said in a televised speech on February 2 in Hormozgan Province, located along the Gulf of Oman.

Raisi's comments were the latest from officials this week that signaled Iran’s openness to a diplomatic resolution to rising tensions with the United States but which also projected the Islamic republic as a powerful country unafraid to hit back if attacked.

The twinned messaging, including by Iran's foreign minister and the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), came before the United States carried out air strikes late on February 2 on dozens of Iranian-linked sites in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the killing of three U.S. troops stationed at a base in Jordan in a January 28 drone attack, which also wounded more than 40 people.

While the Pentagon did not initially say who was responsible for the attack, Washington later blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iranian-backed militias that includes Kataib Hizbollah. The groups are part of Iran's so-called "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West whose members have attacked Israeli and U.S. targets in opposition to Israel's ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

Amid earlier speculation that the U.S. response to the attack on its base in Jordan could include strikes on Iran itself, the U.S. outlet CBS News on February 1 quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying that Washington had approved plans to strike targets -- including Iranian personnel and facilities -- in Syria and Iraq. U.S. forces have come under attack by Iranian-backed militants in those countries where IRGC forces are also present.

At the start of his visit to Hormozgan, Raisi attended an exhibition of the naval and technological capabilities of the IRGC, the elite branch of the Iranian military that has launched recent missile strikes that were seen as a warning to Israel and the United States.

The exhibition, held under the slogan "We Can," showed enemies that they would "never be able" to harm Iran, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

"The enemy does not have the ability to act against the Islamic republic," Raisi was quoted as saying. "Because they know our forces are powerful and capable."

During a later public address in Hormozgan, Raisi said that Iran's military might was not a threat to any country but was a powerful security guarantor that its allies in the region could depend on.

Raisi described the weapons he had seen at the IRGC exhibition as evidence of Iran's status as a "deterrent power."

The United States has repeatedly said that it seeks to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East and is not pursuing a war with Iran.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reiterated that message during a press briefing on January 31 in which he also said Washington had obligations to protect U.S. troops and facilities in the region.

"We will have to do -- we will do what we need to do -- to make sure that that those responsible are held properly accountable," Kirby said, repeating that Washington believed the Iran-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq "planned, resourced, and facilitated" the deadly attack on U.S. troops in Jordan.

He also said that Kaitab Hizballah, which this week announced that it was suspending attacks against the United States, was "not the only group that has been attacking our troops and our facilities in Iraq and Syria."

When asked whether Iran, which has no official diplomatic ties with the United States, had conveyed a message that Tehran was not interested in escalating tensions, Kirby said: "I don't have any private communications with Iran."

On February 2, Raisi said that the United States had first suggested that a "military option was on the table" but that "now they say they have no intention of a conflict with Iran."

The comments echoed those made earlier by high-ranking Iranian officials and military leaders who weighed in on the prospect of an impending U.S. strike.

The messaging came amid reports that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had advised an emergency meeting of the Supreme National Security Council this week to avoid a war with the United States and distance Iran from partners and proxies who killed Americans, but to prepare to strike back if Iran was hit itself.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who has broadly called for diplomacy to reduce tensions in the Middle East, was quoted by the reformist Shargh daily as telling a government meeting that "America should stop the language of threats...and focus on a political solution."

"Iran's response in the face of threats will be decisive and immediate," he added.

IRGC commander Hossein Salami on January 31 shrugged off what Iranian state media referred to as the "threatening rhetoric against Iran," saying the United States and Iran "know each other."

"We will not let any threat remain unanswered," Salami said at a gathering in Tehran. "We are not looking for a war, but are not afraid of war either."

By RFE/RL

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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on February 05 2024 said:
    The Middle East is is a state of calm before the storm and the region appears to be moving slowly but surely towards the storm.

    Iranian President Ebrahim Rais said that Tehran is not looking for military conflict with the United States but would respond forcefully to any threatens against the Islamic republic.

    Meanwhile, the commander of the Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami shrugged off the &quot;threatening rhetoric against Iran,&quot; saying the United States and Iran &quot;know each other.&quot; &quot;We will not let any threat remain unanswered,&quot; Salami said at a gathering in Tehran. &quot;We are not looking for a war, but are not afraid of war either.&quot;

    However, there is a possibility that the United States and Israel could use the escalating tension in the Middle East to attack Iran for the purpose of destroying its nuclear installations thus leading to a widening war in the Middle East and a most disastrous energy crisis.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

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