A former leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Sunday that the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa could be targeted to avenge the general killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad.
Mohsen Rezaei made the threat in Tehran at a ceremony in honor of slain commander Qassem Soleimani and on Twitter.
“Iran’s revenge against America for the assassination of Soleimani will be severe… Haifa and Israeli military centers will be included in the retaliation,” he said, according to a translation by Reuters.
Rezaei, the secretary of Iran’s powerful Expediency Council, is considered a top politician and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He previously alleged Israel somehow leaked information about Soleimani’s whereabouts to US forces, who killed him Friday in a drone strike.
— محسن رضایی (@ir_rezaee) January 5, 2020
On Friday Rezaei vowed vengeance against the US.
“Martyr Lieutenant General Qassem Suleimani joined his martyred brothers, but we will take vigorous revenge on America,” he wrote on Twitter.
His threats followed a Sunday statement by senior Iranian military adviser Hossein Dehghan, who said that his country would respond to the killing of Soleimani with force and target army installations.
Dehghan, the military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, told CNN that Iran was not seeking war with the United States.
“The response for sure will be military and against military sites,” Dehghan said, even as he insisted Tehran is not looking to open a broad conflict.
“Let me tell you one thing: Our leadership has officially announced that we have never been seeking war and we will not be seeking war,” he said.
“It was America that has started the war,” he continued. “Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions. The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they have inflicted. Afterward they should not seek a new cycle.”
US President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday that the US has already “targeted 52 Iranian” sites it is ready to hit immediately if Iran attacks Americans, and noted that some are of cultural importance to the Iranians.
Dehghan told CNN that if the US hits cultural sites, it would be considered a declaration of war and the Iranian response would be harsh.
As the rhetoric between the countries escalated Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran against attacking US assets in the Middle East.
“We think there is a real likelihood Iran will make a mistake and make a decision to go after some of our forces, military forces in Iraq or soldiers in northeast Syria,” Pompeo said in an interview with Fox news.
The US has about 60,000 troops in the region, including around 5,200 in Iraq. Washington ordered thousands more soldiers to the Middle East on Friday after Soleimani’s killing.
“We’re preparing for all kinds of various responses,” including cyber attacks, Pompeo said.
Iran’s Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi called Trump “a terrorist in a suit.”
“Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures,” he tweeted, according to a report from Reuters. “Trump is a terrorist in a suit. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation & Culture.’”
The US, meanwhile, warned American citizens in Saudi Arabia “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.” A security alert message sent Sunday by the US mission there said that in the past “regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted missile and drone attacks against both civilian and military targets inside the kingdom.”
It warned that US citizens living and working near military bases, oil and gas facilities and other critical civilian infrastructure are at heightened risk of attack, particularly in the Eastern Province where the oil giant Aramco is headquartered and areas near the border with Yemen.
Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, spoke with the Iranian foreign minister by phone and asked him to deescalate the situation.