Iran vows to ‘decisively respond’ to any US strikes in aftermath of Jordan attack

Tehran ramps up rhetoric as Biden promises retaliation for killing of 3 US troops; Houthis target US warship in Red Sea in latest attack, with CENTCOM saying missile shot down

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prays at the grave of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, January 31, 2024. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prays at the grave of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, January 31, 2024. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran threatened Wednesday to “decisively respond” to any US attack on the Islamic Republic following US President Joe Biden’s linking of Tehran to the killing of three American soldiers at a military base in Jordan.

The US has signaled it is preparing for retaliatory strikes in the Middle East in the wake of the Sunday drone attack that also injured at least 40 troops at Tower 22, a secretive base in northeastern Jordan that’s been crucial to the American presence in neighboring Syria.

However, concerns remain that any additional American strikes could further inflame a region already roiled by Israel’s ongoing war against the Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea.

A US Navy destroyer in the waterway shot down an anti-ship cruise missile launched by the Houthis late Tuesday, the latest attack targeting American forces patrolling the key maritime trade route, officials said.

The Iranian warnings first came from Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York. He gave a briefing to Iranian journalists late Tuesday, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

“The Islamic Republic would decisively respond to any attack on the country, its interests and nationals under any pretexts,” IRNA quoted Iravani as saying. He described any possible Iranian retaliation as a “strong response,” without elaborating.

The Iranian mission to the UN did not respond to requests for comment or elaboration Wednesday on Iravani’s remarks.

Additional reading: Biden, determined to avoid regional war, seen as unlikely to strike inside Iran

Iravani also denied that Iran and the US had exchanged any messages over the last few days, either through intermediaries or directly. The pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, which is based in and funded by Qatar, reported earlier that such communication had taken place. Qatar often serves as an intermediary between Washington and Tehran.

“Such messages have not been exchanged,” Iravani said.

A satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan on January 29, 2024. Damage from a drone attack that killed three US soldiers can be seen in the center left of the photo. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

But Iran’s government has taken note of the US threats of retaliation for the attack on the base in Jordan.

“Sometimes, our enemies raise the threat and nowadays we hear some threats in between words by American officials,” Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Salami, who answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said at an event Wednesday. “We tell them that you have experienced us and we know each other. We do not leave any threat without an answer.”

“We are not after war, but we have no fear of war,” he added, according to IRNA.

Head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami speaking at the funeral of Razi Mousavi, a senior commander in Iran’s Quds Force who was killed on December 25 in an alleged Israeli strike in Syria, in Tehran, December 28, 2023. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

On Saturday, a general in charge of Iran’s air defenses described them as being at their “highest defensive readiness.” That raises concerns for commercial aviation traveling through and over Iran as well. After a US drone strike killed a top general in 2020, Iranian air defenses mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board.

Meanwhile, attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have continued in the Red Sea, most recently targeting a US warship. The missile launched Tuesday night targeted the USS Gravely, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the US military’s Central Command said in a statement.

“There were no injuries or damage reported,” the statement said.

A Houthi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, claimed the attack in a statement Wednesday morning, calling it “a victory for the oppression of the Palestinian people and a response to the American-British aggression against our country.”

Saree claimed the Houthis fired “several” missiles. something not acknowledged by the US Navy. Houthi claims have been exaggerated in the past, and their missiles sometimes crash on land and fail to reach their targets.

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sana’a on January 22, 2024. (AP Photo)

The Houthis claimed without evidence on Monday to have targeted the USS Lewis B. Puller, a floating landing base used by the Navy SEALs and others. The US said there had been no attack.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The Houthis hit a commercial vessel with a missile on Friday, sparking a fire that burned for hours.

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