President Trump upped the ante in his high-stakes game of geopolitical poker with Iran’s mullahs Saturday, saying he would see their 35 American targets and raise them 52 Iranian ones.
Earlier Iran’s Senior Revolutionary Guard Gen. Gholamali Abuhamzeh bragged that his forces have identified 35 U.S. targets for retaliatory strikes, including warships in the Persian Gulf, oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, military bases and embassies, “as well as Tel Aviv,” Israel’s largest city.
Last night Trump pushed his chips all in:
“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian site (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago),” the commander in chief tweeted.
“Some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets. and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”
The tweets followed earlier warnings from administration officials that a vengeful, forceful response from Iran could come “within weeks,” following Thursday’s killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
Three thousand 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers were sent Saturday to the region as Iranian officials continued their saber rattling following the American drone attack on Soleimani, the mastermind behind Iran’s bloody interventions in countries across the Middle East.
“The Americans did not understand what grave mistake they committed,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said while visiting to Soleimani’s family home in Tehran Saturday, according to a statement. Americans “will face the consequences of this criminal act not only today, but also in the coming years.”
“Who will take revenge for my father?” the general’s daughter Zeinab demanded, in footage released by Iran’s state media.
“Everyone will take revenge,” Rouhani promised.
Trump administration officials briefing Congress members Friday said they wanted to make sure lawmakers were “clear-eyed” about the possibilities of Iranian retaliation — including potential attacks on U.S. soil, CNN reported Saturday.
Details about the Soleimani-orchestrated attacks that US officials claimed they thwarted with Thursday drone strike remain sparse. Senior State Department officials, in transcripts released Saturday, hinted the plot could have hit U.S. diplomats, troops and American facilities in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Mideast.
Some of those same targets may still be in Iranian crosshairs.
Yet State Department officials said that Soleimani’s death will likely reduce the scale of a future attack, because his network of proxy fighters is now disrupted.
“Soleimani, I think, was in many ways the indispensable man,” a senior U.S. official said. “With Soleimani dead, it will be very difficult for these proxies to be organized on the scale, lethality, and effectiveness that they had under Soleimani. He is a remarkable official.”
Tens of thousands of Iraqis surrounded cars in a Baghdad funeral procession bearing the bodies of Soleimani, 62; Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and eight others killed in Thursday’s drone strike — most chanting “America is the Great Satan.”
Muhandis led paramilitary groups that staged multiple attacks against US forces in Iraq.
The mourners, mostly men in black military fatigues, carried Iraqi flags and the flags of Iran-backed militias that are fiercely loyal to Soleimani.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and militia commander Hadi al-Amiri, a close Iran ally and the top candidate to succeed Muhandis, attended the procession.
In other developments Saturday:
• Britain said it will deploy two warships to the Strait of Hormuz to protect UK-flagged ships.
• The US embassy in Baghdad remained shut down, as US citizens were advised to leave Iraq. Other Western nations also warned citizens to leave or be on high alert for potential retaliatory attacks throughout the region.
• NATO temporarily suspended training soldiers in the Iraqi army. The military alliance said in a statement that even if the Canadian-led mission is to continue in the future, security concerns for its personnel were “paramount.” Separately, a U.S.-German team training Iraqi anti-terror forces also suspended its operations.
• Several rockets fell in Baghdad’s Green Zone — the heavily protected area within the city that houses embassies and other official facilities. There were no known casualties.
• It was announced Iraq’s parliament will hold an extraordinary session on Sunday to discuss the US drone strike. Some members of parliament marched in the funeral procession, and are calling for the US to remove its forces from Iraq, claiming that the strike violated the nation’s sovereignty.
• Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued phoning world leaders to drum up support for the US decision to take out Soleimani.
TODAY: 3,000 additional troops from Fort Bragg’s @82ndABNDiv begin deploying to the Middle East amid rising tensions between the #US and #Iran.— WRALJoe Fisher (@JoeFisherTV) January 4, 2020
The 700 troops who deployed New Year’s Day have already arrived in #Kuwait. #wral (Photos/Capt. Robyn Haake) pic.twitter.com/VrwN4dobbL