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Why the U.S. no longer rules out a military strike against Iran

U.S.: The Iran Threat & Options

For decades, the United States has considered the Islamic Republic to be among the greatest threats to its interests and allies in the Middle East. Successive presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have cited Iran’s nuclear program, support for terrorism, meddling in the Middle East and imprisoning American citizens on trumped up charges. Since the 1980s, U.S. forces deployed in Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria as well as Afghanistan have come under attack by Iran’s surrogates and allies. Washington has charged that hundreds of Americans have been killed in firefights, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and assassinations. Tehran has claimed, in turn, that U.S. forces have assassinated a top military commander, sank or disabled warships, and shot down a civilian passenger plane. U.S. forces have also attacked Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria.

Washington’s top concerns about Iran have included:

  • Increasingly accurate ballistic missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,250)

  • Drones provided to Russia and tens of millions of dollars in arms to militant proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Yemen

  • Aggression at sea, including seizure of U.S. drones and provocations of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf

  • Cyberattacks on the U.S. government, infrastructure, and private businesses

  • Plots to kill current and former U.S. officials in retaliation for the 2020 assassination of General Qassem Soleimani

Warships, fighters, bombers and helicopters in the U.S.-Israeli exercise "Juniper Oak 23" in 2023

Like his three predecessors, President Joe Biden has repeatedly vowed that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon. “The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons,” he said in July 2022. In the same interview with Israeli television, he said the use of force was a “last resort.” Yet his diplomatic initiative to revive the historic nuclear deal—brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers in 2015 but abandoned by President Trump in 2018—deadlocked after 17 months of talks launched in April 2021.

“We continue to believe that diplomacy presents the most attractive option, but we also agree with our Israeli partners that we shouldn’t take anything off the table,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price warned on Jan. 9, 2023. Biden faced pressure, at home and abroad, to do more to contain Iran’s program as Tehran increased the enrichment of uranium, which could be used to fuel a nuclear weapon, and installed more faster and efficient centrifuges for enrichment.

In early 2023, Iran would still need up to a year, or possibly two, to assemble a bomb and a warhead with a missile—if Iran made the political decision to cross the nuclear threshold, according to Israeli estimates. In January, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the retiring head of the Israeli Defense Forces, claimed that Iran already had enough uranium that, if enriched further, could fuel four nuclear weapons.

Iran also posed a threat to the U.S. homeland and American partners in the Middle East. Tehran is “becoming more aggressive and more capable in their nefarious activity than ever before,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Nov. 17, 2022. “They employ a growing range of tactics to advance their interests and to harm the United States.”

Under Biden, the U.S. and Israel have accelerated the pace of joint military exercises.

  • November 2022: U.S. and Israeli forces conducted a three-day air force exercise that simulated an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

  • January 2023: Israeli F-35 stealth fighters participated in drills with six U.S. F-15 fighters. The goal was to simulate attacks deep into enemy territory.

  • January 2023: Israeli and U.S. forces conducted a four-day exercise, dubbed "Juniper Oak 23," the largest joint military exercise to date. The live-fire drill included 42 Israeli aircraft and 100 U.S. fighters, bombers and other warplanes as well as a U.S. carrier strike group.

U.S. warplanes often conducted patrols with partner forces, which showcased the “ability to combine forces to deter and, if necessary, defeat our adversaries,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the top U.S. Air Force officer in the Middle East said after two B-52s flew near Iran in September 2022. “Threats to the U.S. and our partners will not go unanswered.”

  • Jan. 27, 2021: B-52 flight to the Persian Gulf

  • March 7, 2021: B-52 flight to the Persian Gulf

  • Oct. 30, 2021: B-1B flight to the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal

  • Nov. 11, 2021: B-1B flight to the Red Sea

  • Feb. 14, 2022: B-52 flight to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea

  • March 29, 2022: B-52 flight to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea

  • June 8, 2022: B-52 flight to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea

  • Sept. 4, 2022: B-52 flight over the eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea

  • Nov. 10, 2022: B-52 flight to the Middle East

Largest U.S.-Israeli military exercise ever conducted

In January 2023, the mounting tensions were reflected in the largest U.S.-Israeli military exercise ever conducted. It was carried out by land, sea and air over four days. “More than 6,400 American troops and more than 1,500 Israeli troops conducted long-range strikes, suppression of enemy air defense, electronic attacks, offensive counter and air interdiction, and air operations in the maritime domain,” said General Michael Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command. “Juniper Oak 23,” a live-fire drill, included 42 Israeli aircraft and 100 U.S. warplanes -- including F-35 stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and -- as well as a U.S. carrier strike group and Special Operations Forces. “The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that,” a U.S. official told NBC News. The exercise also deployed two KC-46 air refueling tankers, which can be used to support a long-range bombing mission.

The escalating tensions since the 1979 revolution are in stark contrast to the warm ties between the United States and Iran during the monarchy. President Richard Nixon’s administration (1969-1974) cultivated a close relationship with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Nixon and his successors – both Republicans and Democrats – considered Iran to be the primary guarantor of U.S. interests in the region and a bulwark against Soviet expansion. In the 1970s, the United States sold oil-rich Iran military equipment worth billions of dollars. Tens of thousands of U.S. technicians deployed in Iran to train local armed forces and maintain weapons. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran was a sprawling 27-acre compound.

Relations soured after Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy and 52 diplomats in 1979. Washington broke off relations with Tehran in 1980. The United States allied with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the eight-year war with Iran. Washington provided intelligence to Iraqi forces who used chemical weapons to kill thousands of Iranians. Since the mid-1980s, Washington and Tehran have made sporadic diplomatic overtures, with mixed results. In the mid-1980s, they traded arms for American hostages in a covert operation that was the most controversial decision of the Reagan administration.

In 1997, President Mohammad Khatami called on both nations to “bring down the wall of mistrust,” as the Clinton administration lifted sanctions on Iranian carpets, pistachios, and caviar. In 2013, President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani launched direct diplomacy that produced the 2015 nuclear deal involving five other major powers. President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed more than 1,500 sanctions. The following are key remarks by U.S. officials on the Iranian threat since 2021.

President Joe Biden

In an interview with Israeli Channel 12 News on July 13, 2022: “The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons.” The United States would use force “as a last resort.”

Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley

In an interview with Foreign Policy on Nov. 30, 2022: “We'll have the sanctions, pressure, and diplomacy. If none of that works, the President has said, and, as a last resort, he will agree to a military option because if that’s what it takes to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, that’s what will happen. But we’re not there.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

In a tweet on Aug. 4, 2022: “Our message to Iran is clear: we will not tolerate threats of violence against Americans — and that certainly includes former government officials. Any attack would be met with severe consequences.”

In an interview with Al Arabiya on Jan. 29, 2023:

Q: I wanted to start with Iran. The administration said that this is not the right time to go back to the JCPOA. Your President described it as dead. Yet, you don’t prefer the military option. How can you stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?

Blinken: “First, Iran had an opportunity to get back into the JCPOA at the end of this past summer. Unfortunately, they rejected what was on the table and had been agreed to by everybody. Their either wouldn’t move forward with it. Now our focus is on the many things that have happened since, including the horrific repression of the Iranian people on the streets of Iran as young people, women in particular, have been standing up for their basic rights, and very important communities across Iranian society are doing the same thing and are being repressed violently by the regime.

At the same time, we’re also seeing Iran support Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine, providing it with drones and potentially other weapons systems. So that’s where the focus is and that’s the concern of many countries around the world.

At the same time, yes, we continue to believe that the most effective way to deal with the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is through diplomacy. Diplomacy is never off the table. But President Biden has also made clear that we’re determined that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon, and every option remains on the table to ensure that that doesn’t happen. But our preferred path would be diplomacy.”

Q: Including military option?

Blinken: “Everything is on the table.”

Second publication by courtesy of The Iran Imprimer, Original-Text


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