By Shashank Bengali
The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Wednesday that Iran was “not looking for war,” appearing to signal that it would not escalate tensions with the United States. But he also warned that Iran was prepared to respond if attacked.
“We hear threatening words from American officials,” Gen. Hossein Salami, the chief commander of the powerful military organization, was quoted as saying by Iranian state news media. “You have tested us and we know each other — we will not leave any threat unanswered.”
The comments came after President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he had decided on a U.S. response to the weekend drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers and injured more than 40 others at a remote military outpost in Jordan. The United States has said that one or more Iranian-backed militias operating in Iraq was behind the attack, the deadliest of more than 160 such strikes targeting U.S. forces in the Middle East since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in October.
Biden did not specify what the U.S. response would be. Some Republican lawmakers have urged him to attack Iran directly, although Biden emphasized again Tuesday that he was determined to avoid a broader regional conflict, telling reporters: “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East.”
In an apparent sign that Iran was trying to tamp down tensions, Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the most powerful regional militias linked to Iran, made the surprising announcement Tuesday that it was suspending military operations in Iraq, where it operates. A statement by the group indicated that it had come under pressure from Iran and Iraq to stop attacks on U.S. troops.
The Pentagon has said that Kata’ib Hezbollah was most likely responsible for the deadly attack on U.S. troops in Jordan.
But Wednesday, John Kirby, spokesperson for President Joe Biden’s National Security Council, said the picture was somewhat less clear-cut.
“We believe that the attack in Jordan was planned, resourced and facilitated by an umbrella group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which contains multiple groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah,” he said.
When asked whether Kata’ib Hezbollah had a primary role in the attack, he said, “This certainly has the earmarks of the kinds of things Kata’ib Hezbollah does.” But, he added, “The attribution that our intelligence community is comfortable with is that this was done by the umbrella group.”
Iran has denied ordering attacks on U.S. forces, including the drone strike in Jordan, saying that the Axis of Resistance — the loose network of Iranian-backed groups operating in the Middle East — act independently to oppose “aggression and occupation.”
In a meeting with government officials Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said the United States should “stop using the language of threats” and focus on achieving a political solution to the regional crisis.
“Iran’s response in the face of any threats will be decisive and immediate,” IRNA, Iran’s state news agency, quoted Abdollahian as saying.