A senior Iranian official on Sunday dismissed the US military buildup in the region as psychological warfare, saying that the US will not attack for fear of provoking an Iranian assault on Israel.
“The US military forces’ deployment in the Persian Gulf is more of the nature of psychological warfare. They are not ready for a war, specially when Israel is within our range,” the Iranian Parliament’s vice-speaker Ali Motahhari said on Sunday, according to the FARS news agency.
In addition to its own missiles, Iranian proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip have hundreds of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel.
Israel’s energy minister, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warned earlier Sunday that escalating tensions between the US and Iran may lead the Islamic Republic to launch a missile assault against Israel.
“Things are heating up,” Yuval Steinitz told the Ynet news site. “I wouldn’t rule anything out. Iran may fire rockets at Israel.”
Steinitz added that Iran may also choose to attack Israel by activating its proxies.
“The American sanctions are breaking the neck of the Iranian economy, and a new and stronger wave [of sanctions] is still to come,” he warned, suggesting that the danger was unlikely to pass in the near future.
Speaking later in the day to the Kan public radio station, Steinitz stressed that he was not privy to any particular intelligence information on Iranian plans, but noted that Tehran was facing drastic economic pressure and “anything could happen” in such a climate.
The Iranians could “go crazy” and “declare war on the whole Middle East,” he said.
Motahhari’s comments echo those of the head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Major General Hossein Salami, who dismissed the Pentagon’s deployment of the USS Lincoln to the region as a ploy, telling lawmakers at a parliament session in Tehran that it was part of the American military’s regular rotation schedule.
“Commander Salami, with attention to the situation in the region, presented an analysis that the Americans have started a psychological war because the comings and goings of their military is a normal matter,” Reuters quoted parliamentary leadership spokesman Behrouz Nemati as saying, summarizing Salami’s comments to the parliament’s ICANA news site.
Meanwhile, the head of the Guards’ aerospace division said the carrier was not a threat, but a target for the Iranians.
“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past but now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities,” said Hajizadeh.
“If (the Americans) make a move, we will hit them in the head,” he added, according to Reuters.
Senior Iranian officials also dismissed remarks by US President Donald Trump, who said he was waiting for the Iranians to call him and a report that the US had passed Trump’s personal number to the Iranians via the Swiss.
“There is no need for a mediator or phone number for Trump to get rid of the hard and critical conditions that he has created for himself and the US,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Seyed Abbas Araqchi said, according to the Fars news agency.
Asked what Iran will do with the phone number Trump has provided to the Swiss officials, Araqchi said, “If needed, they have our phone number.”
Mottahari also defended Iran’s move to stop respecting some of the agreed limits on its nuclear activities, saying it showed it is “not in a position of weakness”
“The timely decision of the Islamic republic regarding its commitments in the (nuclear deal) showed that Iran is not in a position of weakness,” said Ali Mottahari, according to the official IRNA news agency.
Tehran announced Wednesday that it would stop respecting some of the curbs on its nuclear activities imposed under the landmark 2015 deal with world powers.
The announcement came exactly a year after the US withdrew from the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with further measures threatened if the agreement’s other signatories fail to mitigate the impact of renewed American sanctions within 60 days.
The sweeping sanctions have dealt a severe blow to the Iranian economy.
Steinitz’s comments follow a report on Israel’s Channel 13 on Friday that said Israel had warned the US that Iran was contemplating targeting Saudi oil production facilities.
The unsourced report said the Iranians were “considering various hostile acts” against American or American-allied targets. Tehran had looked at targeting American bases in the Gulf, but that had been deemed too drastic a step, it claimed.
The main target then became “Saudi oil production facilities,” the report said. Such a strike would also send world oil prices soaring and enable Iran to get more income from its oil sales, the report added.
Channel 13 also quoted unnamed Arab intelligence sources as saying there was a debate raging in the Iranian leadership about striking US and US-allied targets, with some in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pushing for attacks, including against Israeli targets, while others cautioned that it would be “suicidal” to get into a serious military conflict with the US.