In an open threat to Iran, Washington says a military confrontation is possible with Iran, outlining a long list of complaints against the Islamic Republic, but experts in Tehran say any US aggression will be a major miscalculation.
The US State Department through its Iran envoy has signaled that Washington could consider using military force against Tehran, citing the country’s support to proxy groups across the Middle East and its commitment to developing more sophisticated missile systems.
In May, the Trump administration withdrew from the watershed Iran nuclear deal, which had been brokered by former president Barack Obama, receiving a rare consensus from the international community.
Since then, Washington has escalated its threats against Tehran, restoring its old sanctions over the country and asking Iranian opponents to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
“We have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened. I think they understand that. I think they understand that very clearly,” said Brian Hook, the senior policy advisor to the US secretary of state and the country’s special representative for Iran, during a special briefing in Washington on November 29.
But on the other side of the aisle, Iranians don't much care about the harsh rhetoric that has been coming from the US every now and then.
“I rule out any aggression against Iran. Those threatening our great nation are either stupid or repeating miscalculations,” said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s former top diplomat to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was instrumental in mediating talks between Iran and the US and other countries.
“[After] reading the history of the eight-year-long war imposed by [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein's] regime [against Iran], and heroic holy defence by Iranian great nation, nobody can ever dare to think of any aggression,” Soltanieh told TRT World in early October.
Despite the Trump administration's hawkish policy against Iran, Hook's tone appears to be conciliatory. He said while Washington has “the military option on the table, our preference is to use all of the tools at our disposal diplomatically.”
US complaints on Iran
During his speech, Hook has gone through a long list of complaints against Tehran ranging from supporting militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen to developing nuclear-capable missiles. In order to reinforce his argument against Tehran, the US special representative to Iran repeatedly pointed at Iran's involvement in the Yemen war.
Though Shia-majority Iran supports the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the US along with the Saudi-led Gulf coalition have been supporting Yemen's government and together they have been responsible for deadly strikes that have killed thousands of civilians, including children, and caused deadly famine.
The US Senate recently took steps toward withdrawing American support to the Saudi-led coalition, encouraging UN-led mediation talks between the warring parties.
Hook also singled out Iran for its support to Palestinian resistance groups and Lebanon’s Hezbollah against Israel, even though the Jewish state has a bad human rights record in Palestine, which includes deadly air strikes in the isolated Gaza Strip.
“Iran needs to start behaving like a normal country and surrender its title as the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism,” Hook said. But Soltanieh, a former top Iranian official, says the US needs to evaluate its own standing in the world.
"During my four decades of work at international environment, I have never witnessed such isolation of US government and lack of respect and trust in US, specifically by so-called US allies,” said Soltanieh.
“Trump administration has targeted many countries, humiliated noble nations and created anarchy in the world order."
Hook has also spent a great deal of time emphasising Iran’s newly developed Sayyad 2C surface-to-air missile and its anti-tank guided missiles, displaying two of the guided missiles, the Toophan and the Tosan in the briefing room.
Hook said all these missiles have been dispatched to the service of the Houthis in Yemen and there is a risk that they could be dispatched to other locations to support other pro-Iranian militias across the Middle East.
“This threatens Israel and other partners, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” the American special representative observed, saying that Iranian missile proliferation poses a great danger to regional powers.
But Iranians disagree with him.
“There is no international legally binding treaty on missiles, which is negotiated by the UN. Therefore, all our missile activities are legitimate,” said Soltanieh.
“Recalling Saddam’s horrible missile attacks against innocent Iranian civilians, now Iranian people strongly support missile defence program.”