Pentagon Admits No Evidence Iran Planned To Attack US, Despite Trump Saying The Opposite
“The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said was he believed. I didn’t see one, with regard to four embassies.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said over the weekend on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the Pentagon did not see specific intelligence evidence that Iran was planning to plot an attack on four U.S. embassies. President Trump had previously justified the U.S.’ strike on Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by claiming that such an attack was imminent.
Esper did state that he agreed with President Donald Trump’s assessment that Iran would “probably” strike one of the U.S. embassies. Esper’s statement exposes the confusion around how the Trump administration is handling affairs in the Middle East.
“The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said was he believed. I didn’t see one, with regard to four embassies,” Esper said in the CBS show.
“What I’m saying is that I shared the president’s view that probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies,” he added. “The embassy is the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”
Previously on Friday, January 10, Trump told FOX News that he believed Iran would possibly target the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and that Iran was planning to attack four U.S. embassies before the U.S. drone strike on Iran’s influential General Qasem Suleimani on January 3.
Escalation of US – Iran Tensions
The recent buildup in U.S.-Iran tensions stems primarily from Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) in May of 2018. However, U.S.-Iran relations entered a new phase of escalation after the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani.
According to defense analyst and research fellow at the Center for International and Policy Studies, University of Ottawa, Farhad Rezaei, the demise of Iran’s most influential general was especially shocking given previous concerns that Tehran would spark a full-scale war in the Middle East if Soleimani were targeted.
“Yes the assassination of Suleimani is shocking because in the past, he was spotted by the U.S. forces in Iraq, but they did not dare to target him due to the belief that Iran will set the entire M.E. in a fire. This notion gave Suleimani a free hand to do whatever he wants without being punished. He and his regime thought nobody is going to target him. That’s why they’re shocked now,” Rezaedi told Citizen Truth in an interview.
Soleimani was Iran’s commander of its special troop Quds Force and deemed Iran’s second most powerful man after Ayatollah Ali Khomeini. The 62-year-old charismatic general was known for his influence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. However, during nationwide protests in Iraq triggered by Iraq’s faltering economy, the protests turned into anti-Tehran demonstrations calling for the end of Iran’s role in Iraqi politics.
“Suleimani was highly influential in Iraq to the extent that they called him viceroy of Iraq. Certainly Iraqi people are happy. Because Suleimani played a key role in suppression of Iraqi protests. Iraqis are tired of Iran’s interference in their country’s internal affairs,” Rezaedi added.
One day before the U.S. airstrike that killed the general, Trump had stressed that the U.S. would not be hesitant to take any actions if Iran posed a threat. After the U.S. strike, Trump celebrated the killing of Soleimani, whom Trump deemed a terrorist.
“The United States military executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qassem Soleimani,” Trump said at a press conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Just a few days after Soleimani’s assassination, Iran retaliated by launching a dozen missiles at a U.S. airbase in Iraq only a few hours after the general’s funeral. In a Telegram message, Iran threatened to target Haifa (Israel) and Dubai (the United Arab Emirates) should Washington decide to bomb Iran.
Trump Vs US Intelligence
Just a few days after Soleimani’s death, Trump threatened to target Iranian 52 cultural sites – a threat the Pentagon rebuffed shortly thereafter. Following the threats, Esper responded by saying the U.S. would “follow the laws of armed conflict.” Adding, “That’s the laws of armed conflict” after being asked if that meant ruling out targeting cultural sites.
Trump has previously butted heads with the intelligence community on Iran after he accused U.S. intelligence of being “naïve” on Iran following a 2018 assessment claiming that Iran posed less of a threat than North Korea.
“They are wrong! When I became President, Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but a source of potential danger and conflict,” Trump tweeted angrily.
Trump’s tweet came just a day after then-U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on January 29, 2019, that intelligence did not believe Iran was in the process of producing a nuclear weapon.
“While we do not believe Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device, Iranian officials have publicly threatened to push the boundaries of JCPOA restrictions if Iran does not gain the tangible financial benefits it expected from the deal,” Coats said.
Other government officials have also attempted to distance themselves from Trump’s recent Iran threats without outright contradicting him.
“We’ll behave inside the system,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters last week. “We always have and we always will.”