The White House National Security Council (NSC) had asked the US Defense Ministry to list available options to strike Iran after a militant attack near the American diplomatic mission in Iraq last year, a new report has revealed.
Although the attack in early September did no harm and saw three mortars only hit empty ground in Baghdad’s International Green Zone, John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s hawkish national security adviser and head of the NSC, called several meetings to discuss a “forceful” American response, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
Back then, Bolton and some others in Washington thought that since the attack followed the torching of the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi oil hub of Basra and was claimed by a Shia group, then it must have had something to do with Iran.
They were also under the impression that Iran was behind the unrest in Basra, the report added.
The idea was so far-fetched that the NSC’s request shocked many people in Washington.
“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior US administration official told the WSJ, adding, “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
American officials were particularly stunned that Bolton was ready to use an attack that did no damage as the basis for waging war against Tehran.
The Pentagon, however, complied and provided the NSC with possible scenarios for attacking Iran, officials confirmed.
It was not clear whether Trump was filled in on the plans or whether they proceeded to become serious options to attack the Islamic Republic, the report noted.
Garrett Marquis, a NSC spokesman, appeared to be confirming the report, saying the council routinely checks for available options once US military personnel abroad come under attack and reports it findings to the president.
The NSC “coordinates policy and provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats,” he said.
“We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests,” he added.
The move by Bolton, who provides security, economic and military advice to Trump, underlines Washington’s willingness to go to extremes in order to pressure Iran.
Last year, Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and re-imposed “toughest” sanctions against the Islamic Republic and warned that he would tighten the pressure campaign until Iran agrees to dismantle its ballistic missile program and rolls back its regional influence.
Iran has been one of the key allies of the Iraqi and Syrian governments in their years-long fight against Daesh and other foreign-backed terror outfits, offering critical military advice that has helped them purge terrorists from their territories.
Perhaps that explains why, according to the report, the NSC asked the Pentagon to provide options to respond with possible strikes in Iraq and Syria as well.
Pull out of Syria because we have no business being there— Joseph F Clark (@joeclark_343) January 13, 2019
Then attack Iran because we didn't learn our lesson in Iraq
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also appeared to be confirming days after the mortar attack that Washington was willing to attack Iran.
“Iran will be held accountable for those incidents,” he said in a Sept. 21 CNN interview.
“Even militarily?” he was asked.
“They’re going to be held accountable,” Pompeo replied. “If they’re responsible for the arming and training of these militias, we’re going to go to the source.”
The push for attacking Iran seems to be a personal dream of Bolton.
A strong supporter of regime change in Iran, Bolton has made it clear that he would not say no to military action if that is what it takes to achieve his objective.
He has been aggressively championing attacking Iran long before joining the Trump administration, people familiar with the discussions told the WSJ.
In 2015, he even penned a New York Times op-ed titled, “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.”
In a trip to Israel earlier this month, Bolton said Trump was ready to attack Iran if he sensed Tehran was moving towards developing nuclear weapons.
“The president looks at all his options constantly,” Bolton said. “On a subject of this seriousness, this is something we coordinate very closely with Israel on, but for reasons I’m sure you can understand, we have to keep our cards close to the vest.”
The report comes ahead of an anti-Iran US summit in Poland next month.
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