Iran to US: Don’t test us; missile attack on base in Iraq was just a ‘warning’

Defense minister says Tehran prepared to respond forcefully to US ‘adventurism’ following drone strike that killed Soleimani

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami speaks at the Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami speaks at the Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami issued a warning to Washington on Friday, saying that Iran’s missile attacks on a US base in Iraq in response to the drone killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani were “just a slap.” Hatami also vowed to respond forcefully to US “adventurism.”

“I hope the enemies will not try to test the Iranian people’s resolve, because what has been done was just a slap and a warning,” Hatami said during a speech in a military academy, according to the Tehran Times.

US President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq on January 3 that killed Soleimani, the head of the extraterritorial Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and one of Iran’s most powerful officials. At the time, Trump said Soleimani was planning attacks against US troops in the region but White House officials have since given different justifications for the killing, including one of deterrence.

On Saturday, CNN reported that Trump recently held a fundraising dinner for GOP donors where he gave a minute-by-minute account of the drone strike and said Soleimani was “saying bad things” about the US, which led to his decision to authorize the killing.

In response to the drone strike, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. There were no reported casualties at the time but it has since been revealed that eight US troops suffered injuries.

This satellite image provided on January 8, 2020, by Middlebury Institute of International Studies and Planet Labs Inc. shows the damage caused from an Iranian missile strike at the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq. (Planet Labs Inc./Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

Hatami warned on Friday that Iran was “prepared to give a powerful response to any adventurism,” and said Tehran targeted the US military base “in self-defense.” These remarks were made as part of a phone conversation with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, the Tehran Times reported.

“After this action, the United States realized that they will face a stronger response if they take a stupid action again,” he added during the call, according to the report.

Hatami said the US killing of Soleimani was a “strategic mistake” and called on “all independent countries in the world, especially in the region, to strongly condemn” the operation.

The strike exacerbated already high tensions between the US and Iran which have been steadily escalating since Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear accord. The agreement, negotiated under the US administration of Barack Obama, had imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

A burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, in which Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed January 3, 2020. (Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP)

The US has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country into an economic crisis that has ignited several waves of sporadic, leaderless protests.

Also on Friday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a sermon that America had been “cowardly” when it killed the most effective commander, Soleimani, in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Khamenei said the missile attack in response was a “blow to America’s image” as a superpower. In part of the sermon delivered in Arabic, he said the “real punishment” would be in forcing the US to withdraw from the Middle East.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, leads the Friday prayers at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Trump later tweeted a sharp response to Khamenei: “The so-called ‘Supreme Leader’ of Iran, who has not been so Supreme lately, had some nasty things to say about the United States and Europe. Their economy is crashing, and their people are suffering. He should be very careful with his words!”

After the US drone strike on Soleimani, as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard braced for an American counterattack that never came, it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian jetliner shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s international airport, killing all 176 passengers on board, mostly Iranians.

Authorities concealed their role in the tragedy for three days, initially blaming the crash on a technical problem. When it came, their admission of responsibility triggered days of street protests, which security forces dispersed with live ammunition and tear gas.

Khamenei called the shoot down of the plane a “bitter accident” that he said had saddened Iran as much as it made its enemies happy. He said Iran’s enemies had seized on the crash to question the Islamic Republic, the Revolutionary Guard and the armed forces.

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