New Iran threat to ‘set region on fire’

Iranian soldiers march during a military parade as they mark the country's annual army day in Tehran. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 June 2019

New Iran threat to ‘set region on fire’

  • “Firing one bullet toward Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies” in the Middle East, said an Iranian general
  • But US President Donald Trump offers to be ‘their best friend’

TEHRAN: Iran threatened on Saturday to set the Middle East on fire — while US President Donald Trump offered talks to boost the country’s struggling economy and “make Iran great again.”

The conflicting messages came amid escalating tension after Iran shot down a US drone over the Strait of Hormuz, and the US came within minutes of launching a retaliatory strike before Trump canceled it because too many Iranians would have been killed.

Iran warned of a “crushing” response to any attack. “If the enemy, especially America and its allies, make the military mistake of shooting the powder keg on which America’s interests lie, the region will be set on fire,” said armed forces spokesman Abolfazl Shekarchi. “Firing one bullet toward Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies.”

Meanwhile Trump said he could be Iran’s “best friend” if it renounced nuclear weapons. “When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country,” he said. “They’re going to be so happy, and I hope that happens. Let’s make Iran great again.”

Trump said he called off a military strike on Iran at the last minute because it would have been a disproportionate response to the downing of the US drone. “Everyone was saying I’m a warmonger, and now they say I’m a dove,” he said. “I think I am neither, if you want to know the truth. I’m a man with common sense, and that’s what we need.

“If the leadership of Iran behaves badly, then it’s going to be a very bad day for them. But hopefully they’re smart and they really care for their people and not themselves, and we can get Iran back on to an economic track that’s fantastic, where they’re a really wealthy nation, which would be a wonderful thing.”

Despite the conciliatory words, Trump said military action was “always on the table,” along with sanctions.

“We are putting additional sanctions on Iran,” he said. “In some cases we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned a UAE envoy to protest over the launch of the US drone from Emirati territory. The US banned its airlines from flying in Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, and other international airlines followed suit.

Britain said Foreign Office minister Andrew Murrison would raise “Iran’s regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal” during a visit to Tehran on Sunday.

Israel’s Syria assaults kill Hezbollah men, Iranian

Updated 13 min 3 sec ago

Israel’s Syria assaults kill Hezbollah men, Iranian

  • Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there

BEIRUT, DAMASCUS: Israel airstrikes near the Syrian capital overnight killed two fighters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and one Iranian combatant, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said on Sunday.

“The Israeli raids targeting Iranian and Hezbollah posts ... in the southeast of Damascus killed at least three people — two from Hezbollah and a third who was Iranian,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Israel said on Sunday an airstrike against an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria that it accused of planning “killer drone attacks” showed Tehran that its forces were vulnerable anywhere.

A senior Revolutionary Guards commander denied that Iranian targets had been hit late on Saturday and said its military “advisory centers have not been harmed,” the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.

The Israeli military said its aircraft struck “Iranian Quds Force operatives and Shiite militias which were preparing to advance attack plans targeting sites in Israel from within Syria over the last number of days.”

The elite Quds Force is the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters the forces had been preparing to launch “killer drones” armed with explosives at northern Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military had thwarted the planned Iranian attack.

“Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression,” he said on Twitter. “If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first.”

Syrian state media said Syrian air defenses intercepted “hostile targets” over Damascus, the capital, on Saturday night.

Witnesses in Damascus said they heard and saw explosions in the sky.

The Syrian forces said in a statement that “the majority of the Israeli missiles were destroyed before reaching their targets.” Conricus, however, said the impact of the Israeli strikes was “significant.”

A war monitor said on Sunday that two members of Tehran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah and one Iranian were killed in the strikes.

Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there and against advanced weapon shipments to Hezbollah.

Iran and Hezbollah are helping President Bashar Assad in the eight-year Syria war. Russia, which is also aiding Assad, has largely turned a blind eye to the Israeli airstrikes. Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, the Israeli leader’s office said.

Israel made no comment on what the Lebanese army and Hezbollah said was the crash of two Israeli drones in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut early on Sunday. Hezbollah officials said one of the drones was rigged with explosives and caused some damage to the organization’s media center.

On Thursday, Netanyahu hinted of possible Israeli involvement in a series of blasts in the past few weeks that have hit weapon depots and bases belonging to paramilitary groups in Iraq, many of them backed by Iran.

On Wednesday, the PMF, the umbrella grouping of Iraq’s paramilitary groups, said the US had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region accompanying US forces and carry out missions on Iraqi territory.

The US-led coalition, in Iraq to fight remnants of Daesh, dismissed the statement and the Pentagon denied it.

On the popular Israeli YNet news website, military affairs commentator Ron Ben-Yishai described the alleged Iranian killer drone attack plans as revenge by Tehran for the purported Israeli drone strikes in Iraq, noting that the two enemies were using similar weapons. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, and now executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said neither Iran nor Israel were interested in all-out war.

“We’re not there yet,” he said on Israel Radio. “But sometimes, someone makes a mistake.”