In the hours after a US drone strike killed a top Iranian general, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instructed that a revenge attack on US interests be openly carried out by Iranian forces rather than the country’s regional proxies, the New York Times reported Monday.
Khamenei showed up at a meeting of Iran’s National Security Council and laid down the conditions for a response to the slaying of Qassem Soeimani, the report said.
It must be direct, proportional, on American interests and carried out openly by Iranian forces, Khamenei declared, three Iranian sources familiar with the meeting told the newspaper.
The airstrike on Soleimani, a general who headed Iran’s elite Quds Force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, has caused regional tensions to soar.
Khamenei has publicly vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death.
Open action by Iran against the US would be a significant departure from the usual methods of the Islamic Republic, which in that past has preferred to use regional proxies to see through its plans.
Analysts quoted in the report said Iran could target American troops in Syria or Iraq, as well as US bases in the Persian Gulf or American embassies or diplomats anywhere in the world.
However, Iran expert Afshon Ostovar, of the Naval Postgraduate School, noted to the Times that in the past Iran-backed terror groups, frustrated at not being able to inflict military damage, have instead targeted civilians.
One such case was the 2012 Lebanese Hezbollah terror group attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in revenge for the killing by Israel of one of the Iran-backed group’s leaders.
“We are in uncharted territory, and the truth of the matter is nobody knows how Iran is going to respond. I don’t think even Iran knows,” Ostovar said. “But I think there is a blood lust right now in the Revolutionary Guards.”
At a Tuesday funeral ceremony for Soleimani in his hometown of Kerman, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hossein Salami, threatened to “set ablaze” places supported by the United States.
“We will take revenge,” Salami said, drawing cries of “Death to Israel!”
According to a report on Tuesday by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans for revenge for Soleimani’s killing. The report quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying that even the weakest among them would be a “historic nightmare” for the US. He declined to give any details,
“If the US troops do not leave our region voluntarily and upright, we will do something to carry their bodies horizontally out,” Shamkhani said.
Iran’s parliament, meanwhile, passed an urgent bill declaring the US military’s command at the Pentagon in Washington and those acting on its behalf “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to mirror a decision by President Donald Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.”
On Monday a top commander of Iran’s missile array said that only the complete removal of US forces from the entire Middle East would suffice for revenge.
Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, said “The only thing that can compensate the blood of this martyr [Soleimani] is the complete destruction of America in the region.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah similarly said Sunday said that revenge for Soleimani demanded nothing short of driving the US out of the Middle East.
Nasrallah said Soleimani’s killing marked the start of a “new war” on the US in the Middle East and called on Shiite militias to attack US military assets throughout the region — including suicide bombings. He predicted that the Americans will leave the region in “coffins,” taking Israel with them.
But despite the tensions ratcheting up and the inclusion of Israel in the rhetoric for Iranian revenge, security officials on Monday told Israel’s high-level security cabinet that Iran is unlikely to attack the country.
According to several officials who were present at the cabinet meeting and spoke to Hebrew media, several scenarios were presented regarding Iran’s possible response to the assassination, with the security officials saying the chances of an attack on Israel were low.
The US embassy in Israel, however, released a travel advisory Monday to its nationals in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, warning of the possibility of sudden rocket fire at the country.
In November, the Reuters news agency reported that Khamenei personally approved a cruise missile and drone strike on a Saudi Arabian oil facility — on condition the strike did not target civilians or Americans.
Khamenei feared that targeting a US base “could provoke fierce retaliation by the United States and embolden Israel, potentially pushing the region into war,” the Reuters report said, citing four people familiar with the planning of that attack which knocked half of the kingdom’s oil production.
Although Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, the US, Israel, Britain, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia accused Iran of being behind the attack. Tehran denies the allegation.