US official warns Soleimani’s successor faces ‘same fate’ if he kills Americans

Top Iran envoy Brian Hook threatens new Quds Force chief Esmail Ghaani: ‘They can’t attack America and expect to get away with it’; Iran condemns ‘governmental terrorism’

Quds Force chief Esmail Ghaani. (Courtesy)
Quds Force chief Esmail Ghaani. (Courtesy)

America’s top Iran policy official warned of a repeat of its January 3 killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani if the latter’s successor follows in his footsteps and kills Americans.

Esmail Ghaani, who took over command of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force the very day Soleimani was killed, has repeatedly promised to exact “revenge” on the US for the assassination, including in a Tuesday speech in which he vowed to “hit his enemies in a manly fashion.”

“If he follows a similar path of killing Americans, he will meet the same fate,” Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said of Ghaani in an interview published Thursday with the Asharq al-Awsat Arabic-language daily.

“The president has made clear for years that any attacks against American personnel or interests in the region will be met with a decisive response, and the President demonstrated that on January 2nd,” Hook said, according to an English transcript posted by the newspaper.

“So this is not a new threat. The president has always said that he will act decisively in defense of American interests. And I think the regime now understands that they cannot attack America at will and expect to get away with it. So we will hold the regime and its proxies accountable for any attacks on Americans, or on American interests in the region,” Hook said.

US special representative on Iran Brian Hook at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, November 18, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

An Iranian spokesman responded to Hook’s warning by calling it “governmental terrorism.”

“These words are an official announcement and a clear unveiling of America’s targeted and governmental terrorism,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Thursday, according to Reuters, citing the official IRIB news agency.

Mousavi also urged the international community to condemn the American official’s comments.

In his interview, conducted at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Hook defended the killing of Soleimani and US President Donald Trump’s combative policies toward the Islamic Republic.

“We took the world’s most dangerous terrorists off the battlefield… and as a consequence, the region is going to be safer because Soleimani was the glue that held together the proxies, and his death will create a void that the regime will not be able to fill,” he said.

Worshipers in Iran chant slogans during Friday prayers ceremony by a banner showing slain Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani, left, and Iraqi Shiite senior militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone attack on January 3, and a banner which reads in Persian: ‘Death To America,’ at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran, January 17, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

He also insisted Iran had been weakened by US sanctions and pressure.

“Iran is not able to get away with the kind of terrorist attacks that they used to. That doesn’t mean that we’ve eliminated Iran’s ability to conduct asymmetric attacks, but our new policy is making a difference,” Hook said. “The regime has never been weaker financially in its 40-year history, and it has never been under more domestic political unrest than it is now. And this is a consequence of the president’s new approach to Iran.”

In his Monday speech, Ghaani lashed the US strike as a “cowardly act,” saying “there are freedom-seekers across the world who want revenge for him with God’s help, and God willing, we will hit his enemy chivalrously.

“Our enemy understands no language but force and therefore, we should stand against them strongly,” he added, according to the Fars news agency.

The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, has its naval forces shadow the US Navy in the Persian Gulf and includes an all-volunteer Basij force.

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)

Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq on January 3 that killed Soleimani. At the time, Trump said the Quds Force head was planning attacks against US troops in the region, though he later stepped back from that assertion.

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.

Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami on Friday said that Iran’s missile attacks on a US base in Iraq in response to the killing of Soleimani were “just a slap,” and vowed to respond more 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.

The strike exacerbated 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.

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

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 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.

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.

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