As tensions mount between Iran and the United States, on Tuesday Tehran issued a warning to Washington to avoid provoking a conflict, which they said could devastate the region.
Among the officials issuing the warning was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who stressed that Iran did not want war and again denied that his country was in any way involved in the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf. The officials further accused the United States of escalating tensions with Iran, CNN reports.
The comments came shortly after The New York Times published a story saying that National Security Adviser John Bolton ordered updates to a military plan that would see over 100,000 troops sent to the Middle East should Iran decide to attack.
According to a U.S. official, members of Trump’s national security team wanted to be ready for any possibility and the plan to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East was one of the options reviewed in case Iran escalates its nuclear program and becomes a serious threat.
Over the past few weeks, the already heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran have become even more so with Washington re-imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic amid warnings that Iran has become a threat to U.S. troops in the region, which Bolton maintains must be responded to by deploying a Navy strike group and bomber to the Persian Gulf.
However, questions have been raised about that deployment and the characterization of the threat against U.S. forces, prompting some to say that the Trump administration may be seeking a clash with Iran.
“I think what we’re seeing now is our own administration goading Iran into taking ill-advised and tremendously foolish actions that would provide them with justification to … use force against the Iranian regime,” said Ned Price, a former intelligence officer.
An expert sees the current developments as an attempt by Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to draw the U.S. into a war with Iran that could lead to a regime change in the country, something the two have long called for.
“I see all the pieces being put on the table, by John Bolton primarily, setting up a situation where the United States gets drawn into war with Iran in a way that the Trump administration can deny blame,” said the expert, Tom Collina.
The same sentiment was echoed by the Iranian side, which said that Bolton was “setting the stage for war with Iran — forcing Iran into a corner and then readying war plans for when Iran takes the bait.”