Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ chief warns Trump: ‘If you begin the war, we will end it’

In this June 30, 2018 photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, who heads the elite Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard attends a graduation ceremony of a group of the guard's officers in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
Updated 27 July 2018

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ chief warns Trump: ‘If you begin the war, we will end it’

  • Mounting US economic pressure, a faltering economy, sliding currency and state corruption are rattling Iran’s clerical rulers
  • Neither side want a military confrontation

ANKARA: A powerful commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday that Donald Trump should address any threats against Tehran directly to him, and mocked the US president as using the language of “night clubs and gambling halls.”
The comments by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who heads the Quds Force of the Guards, were the latest salvo in a war of words between the two countries.
“As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats ... If you wants to use the language of threat ... talk to me, not to the president (Hassan Rouhani). It is not in our president’s dignity to respond to you,” Soleimani was quoted as saying by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Soleimani’s message was in essence a warning to the United States to stop threatening Iran with war or risk exposing itself to an Iranian response.
“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine ... Come. We are ready ... If you begin the war, we will end the war,” Tasnim news agency quoted Soleimani as saying. “You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.”
Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the fiery rhetoric of Soleimani was only “empty talk” because Iran was aware of “the strength and might of the US military.”
On Sunday night, Trump said in a tweet directed at Rouhani: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!“
A few hours earlier, Rouhani had addressed Trump in a speech, saying that hostile US policies could lead to “the mother of all wars.”
Fanning the heightened tensions, US national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement on Monday: “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”
Bolton is a proponent of interventionist foreign policy and was US ambassador to the United Nations in the administration of George W. Bush during the Iraq war.
“You (Trump) threaten us with paying a price like few countries have ever paid. Trump, this is the language of night clubs and gambling halls,” said Soleimani, who as Quds Force commander is in charge of the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas operations.
Iran’s Guards commanders have threatened to destroy US military bases across the Middle East and target Israel, which Iran refuses to recognize, within minutes of being attacked.

WAR OF WORDS
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Thursday that the Trump administration was “working with our partners and allies to try to get Iran to change its behavior and stop its actions across the region.”
Gidley, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One flying with Trump to Washington, D.C., from St. Louis, declined to comment on whether a strike was among options.
Since Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Tehran’s clerical establishment has been under increasing US pressure and the prospect of possible sanctions.
Washington aims to force Tehran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups in the Middle East, where Iran is involved in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria.
Despite the bellicose rhetoric, there is limited appetite in Washington for a conflict with Iran, not least because of the difficulties the US military faced in Iraq after its 2003 invasion but also because of the impact on the global economy if conflict raised oil prices.
Mounting US economic pressure, a faltering economy, sliding currency and state corruption are rattling Iran’s clerical rulers, but analysts and insiders rule out any chance of a seismic shift in Iran’s political landscape.
“This is a war of words. Neither side want a military confrontation. But of course, if America attacks Iran, our response will be crushing,” a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Trump suggested on Tuesday that talks with Iran were an option, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal.” But Iran rejected it.
“But eventually, within a few months, half a year, they’ll have no choice and will return to negotiation table with the United States and give up their nuclear program,” Steinitz told Israeli Reshet TV on Thursday.
While the United States is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November, Iran has warned of counter-measures and has threatened to block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted.
“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure today with the presence of American forces,” Soleimani said.
Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was temporarily halting all oil shipments through the Red Sea shipping lane of Bab Al-Mandeb after an attack on two oil tankers by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement.


Syrian Kurds say will help implement US-Turkey ‘safe zone’

Updated 9 min 38 sec ago

Syrian Kurds say will help implement US-Turkey ‘safe zone’

  • Buffer area sought to ‘limit any uncoordinated military operations,’ coalition says

HASAKAH/SYRIA, BEIRUT: Syria’s Kurds would support the implementation of a US-Turkey deal to set up a buffer zone in their areas along the Turkish border, they said on Saturday.

The “safe zone” agreed by Ankara and Washington earlier this month aims to create a buffer between the Turkish border and Syrian areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG have played a key role in the US-backed battle against Daesh in Syria, but Ankara views them as “terrorists.”

On Saturday, Mazloum Kobani, the head of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said his alliance would back the deal.

“We will strive to ensure the success of (US) efforts toward implementing the understanding ... with the Turkish state,” he said.

“The SDF will be a positive party toward the success of this operation,” he told journalists in the northeastern town of Hasakah.

US Central Command said late on Friday that the SDF — which expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in eastern Syria in March — had destroyed outposts in the border area.

“The SDF destroyed military fortifications” on Thursday, it said in a statement on Twitter.

“This demonstrates (the) SDF’s commitment to support implementation of the security mechanism framework.”

On Wednesday, the US and Turkish defense ministers “confirmed their intent to take immediate, coordinated steps to implement the framework,” said a statement by the US Department of Defense.

Also on Saturday, a representative of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh said the buffer area sought to “limit any uncoordinated military operations.”

“We believe that this dialogue is the only way to secure the border area in a sustainable manner,” Brig. Gen. Nicholas Pond said.

On Aug. 7, Turkish and US officials agreed to establish a joint operations center to oversee the creation of the “safe zone.”

Little is known about its size or how it will work, but Ankara has said there would be observation posts and joint patrols.

Damascus has rejected the agreement as serving “Turkey’s expansionist ambitions.”

Syrian Kurds have established an autonomous region in northeast Syria amid the country’s eight-year war. But as the fight against Daesh winds down, the prospect of a US military withdrawal had stoked Kurdish fears of a long-threatened Turkish attack.

Turkey has already carried out two offensives into Syria in 2016 and 2018, the second of which saw it and allied Syrian rebels overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest.

Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in the Syrian city of Idlib on Saturday, a war monitor said, as regime airstrikes hit its outskirts in a government offensive on the last major opposition bastion.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and opposition-run Orient News said a car blew up in the Al-Qusoor neighborhood. 

The Observatory said the blast killed two and wounded at least 11.

The city and the surrounding Idlib province in northwest Syria form part of the last big rebel stronghold in Syria.

A new push by Syrian government and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province and nearby Hama, prompting a new civilian exodus. Hundreds of people have been killed in the campaign since late April, the United Nations says.

On Friday Russia-backed Syrian troops reclaimed a cluster of towns they had lost early in the eight-year-old war, driving out the last rebel fighters from the Hama countryside.

Idlib city itself has largely been spared air strikes since a major bombing campaign on the territory began in late April, but on Saturday its outskirts were hit from the air, the Observatory and opposition media said.

Heavy strikes continued to hit the south of Idlib province, including around Maarat al-Numan, a city that has been a sanctuary for families fleeing former rebel areas around the country. This week tens of thousands fled to Syria’s border with Turkey as the fighting advanced.