An Iranian cleric close to the country’s supreme leader warned Friday that Iran could destroy a US naval force destined for the Persian Gulf with just one missile, further escalating tensions between the countries.
“Their billion [-dollar] fleet can be destroyed with one missile,” Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai Nejad was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency during prayers in Isfahan, according to Reuters.
“If they attempt any move, they will… [face] dozens of missiles because at that time [government] officials won’t be in charge to act cautiously, but instead things will be in the hands of our beloved leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]” added Nejad, who is the supreme leader’s representative in Isfahan.
The United States had in recent days announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable bombers to the region, saying it had information of plans for Iranian-backed attacks.
During a state-backed protest in Tehran, demonstrators rallied against US, chanting “America should know, sanctions have no effect,” Reuters reported.
Iran on Wednesday said it would suspend some commitments under a 2015 nuclear accord rejected by US President Donald Trump, frustrated that renewed US sanctions have prevented the country from enjoying the economic fruits of compliance with the deal.
Earlier in the day, a top commander in Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said the United States “wouldn’t dare to launch military action against us.”
Yadollah Javani, the IRGC’s deputy head for political affairs, made the comments after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday threatened a “swift and decisive” response to any attack by Iran.
And while Trump on Thursday said he “would like to see [Iran] call me” for talks, Javani told the Tasnim news agency there would be no talks, adding Tehran saw Washington as “unreliable.”
An American official told the Associated Press the decision to send in more forces was based in part on intelligence indications that Iran had moved short-range ballistic missiles by boat in waters off its shores.
“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places.”
Asked about the possibility of military conflict with Iran, the president said: “I guess you could say that always, right? I don’t want to say no, but hopefully that won’t happen. We have one of the most powerful ships in the world that is loaded up and we don’t want to do anything.”
Meanwhile, NBC News reported Thursday night that in a rare occurrence last week, US national security adviser John Bolton gathered the nation’s top defense, intelligence and diplomatic officials at CIA headquarters to discuss developments on the Iranian front.
The US’s military moves have frightened some European allies as well as Trump’s Democratic rivals, who fear the administration is pushing for war based on overhyped intelligence.
However, Pompeo, who earlier canceled a trip to Greenland to rush back to Washington, said: “We do not seek war.”
“But Iran’s 40 years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities, and taking American hostages is a constant reminder that we must defend ourselves,” said Pompeo, referencing the 1979 Islamic revolution that transformed Iran from close US ally to sworn foe.
At the same time, Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the United States Naval Forces Central Command, told Reuters he would bring the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln through the Gulf’s sensitive Strait of Hormuz if need be.
“If I need to bring it inside the strait, I will do so,” Malloy said. “I’m not restricted in any way, I’m not challenged in any way, to operate her anywhere in the Middle East.”