The Iran crisis
January 26, 2020

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to resign over the downing of a Ukrainian jet carrying 176 passengers earlier this month, The New York Times reports.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps accidentally shot down the passenger plane amid heightened tensions with the United States that have since cooled a bit. A series of communication errors reportedly led to an officer firing missiles at the plane, believing it was a hostile U.S. aircraft. Upon realizing what had actually happened, the IRGC began to cover their tracks, refusing to even tell Rouhani the truth for days.

Rouhani, left in the dark, reportedly deflected phone calls from other world leaders because he had no answers for them, and military commanders were doing the same thing to him when he tried to reach them. When finally informed of the truth, officials close to Rouhani told the Times, the president was "livid," demanding that Tehran admit the mistake and face the consequences. Military officials reportedly argued with Rouhani out of fear that the news would destabilize the country. That's when Rouhani said he would resign.

Eventually, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei got a message to the military, siding with Rouhani and ordering a public statement acknowledging what happened. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

January 17, 2020

Eleven Americans were injured in Iran's recent missile strike on the Al Asad Air base in Iraq, which President Trump and the Pentagon previously said resulted in no injuries.

The military confirmed Thursday that 11 Americans were treated for concussions after Iran last week struck two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops, The New York Times reports. "While no U.S. servicemembers were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed," a United States Central Command spokesperson told the Times.

Trump last week said "the American people should be extremely grateful and happy," as "no Americans were harmed" in the attack. The attack on the two bases came in response to a Trump-authorized U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

CNN notes that "concussions are not always apparent immediately after they've been suffered," and a defense official told CNN that the Pentagon previously indicating that there were no injuries "was the commander's assessment at the time" but "symptoms emerged days after the fact, and they were treated out of an abundance of caution."

With this in mind, CNN's Jim Sciutto observed that "the crux" of the story "is not the Pentagon mislead," as "these injuries emerged only after the fact," but rather "that the Iranian missile strike was a nearer miss than advertised." Brendan Morrow

January 17, 2020

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, led Friday prayers at a mosque in Tehran on Friday for the first time since 2012, trying to rally support among intertwined crises facing his government. On the foreign front, punishing U.S. sanctions have harmed Iran's economy and the Trump administration's killing of Iran's top general brought the U.S. and Tehran to the brink of war. Domestically, Iranians already angry over a hike in fuel prices took to the streets this week to demand justice and accountability for the Revolutionary Guard's downing of a Ukrainian jetliner, killing 176 people, most of them Iranian.

In nationally broadcast comments from inside the Mosalla mosque, Khamenei, 80, said the missiles fired on the Ukrainian jet were a "bitter accident" and defended the Revolutionary Guard, which reports directly to him. "Our enemies were as happy about the plane crash as we were sad," he said. "Happy that they had found something to question the Guard and the armed forces." He called President Trump, who has been encouraging the antigovernment protests, a "clown" who is only pretending to support Iran's people and would just as soon "push a poisonous dagger" into their backs.

Khamenei also addressed the missile strikes on two Iraqi bases hosting U.S. forces, calling the a "slap on the face" to the U.S. "The fact that Iran has the power to give such a slap to a world power shows the hand of God," he said, but pushing the U.S. military out of the Middle East would be the "real punishment" for America's "cowardly" killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, highlighting Soleimani's efficacy in battling the Islamic State. He added that the killing showed America's "terrorist nature."

"Leading Friday prayers in the capital is a symbolically significant act usually reserved for times when Iran's highest authority wishes to deliver an important message," BBC News reports, citing Mehdi Khalaji at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Peter Weber

January 15, 2020

President Trump is easily drawn in by celebrity, even when it comes to fighting terrorism, writes recently retired CIA counterterrorist manager Douglas London in Just Security.

London writes that when it comes to intelligence, Trump's focus remains on "celebrity, headlines, and immediate gratification" as opposed to "the most important threats." London and his team reportedly struggled to get Trump to look beyond name recognition. Instead, the president targeted well-known figures like Osama Bin Laden's son, Hamza, even though he was young, inexperienced, lacked a strong following, and was not seriously considered a possible successor to Ayman al-Zawahiri's Al Qaeda leadership.

But despite intelligence pinpointing more dangerous figures, Trump was determined to go after Hamza bin Laden, and the U.S. was ultimately successful in doing so.

Another major name that caught Trump's interest was Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq earlier this month. Unlike Hamza bin Laden, London didn't deny that Soleimani was a serious threat, but he argues Trump's desire to cause a stir and conduct the strike so overtly was detrimental to the U.S.'s broader strategic thinking and security. "Even with these dangers, Soleimani's very public removal was too great a headline to pass up for Trump, but there were other options," London writes. Read more at Just Security. Tim O'Donnell

January 14, 2020

It looks like the Senate will pass a resolution to restrict President Trump's military authority on Iran, following a similar vote from the House last week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who introduced the resolution, said Tuesday he has the 51 votes necessary to get it passed. It's a bipartisan effort, considering there are only 47 Democrats in Congress' upper chamber. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined three of her GOP colleagues — Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — who had already announced they would back Kaine's bill.

The resolution came about after Trump approved an airstrike in Iraq earlier this month that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, heightening already-simmering tensions between Tehran and Washington. Things have cooled down since then, but Congress is still trying to ensure the country isn't rushed into a major conflict. "This should be the hardest decision we make," Kaine said. "And because we're going to be ordering young men and women to risk their lives, we shouldn't do it unless we have the guts to have the debate." Tim O'Donnell

January 14, 2020

Iran's judiciary announced Tuesday that "extensive investigations have taken place and some individuals are arrested" in connection with last Wednesday's rocket attack on a Ukrainian International Airlines flight leaving Tehran. Iran's Revolutionary Guard admitted Saturday that it had accidentally shot down the plane, killing all 176 people on board, after mistaking it for a U.S. missile. Iranians have been in the streets protesting the government's initial cover-up. The majority of passengers on the plane were Iranian and Canadian.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested in a televised speech that "the judiciary should form a special court with a ranking judge and dozens of experts," because after this "painful and unforgivable" mistake, "the entire the world will be watching this court." Rouhani said the military's acceptance of responsibility was "a first good step," but "the responsibility falls on more than just one person" and those found culpable "should be punished." Peter Weber

January 14, 2020

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that the victims on a Ukraine International Airlines plane that was shot down over Tehran last week would still be alive if not for heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Early last Wednesday, Iran fired ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. This was in response to President Trump authorizing an airstrike in Baghdad that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Just a few hours after the Iranian retaliatory strikes, Iran's military accidently shot down the Ukrainian plane, killing all 176 passengers and crew. Of the victims, 57 were Canadians. After initial denials, the Iranian government acknowledged this weekend that it had made a "disastrous mistake."

"I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families," Trudeau told Global News TV. The U.S. did not tell Canada in advance it was planning on targeting Soleimani, and Trudeau said "obviously" he would have liked advance notice.

"The U.S. makes its determinations," he added. "We attempt to work as an international community on big issues. But sometimes countries take actions without informing their allies." Catherine Garcia

January 13, 2020

President Trump's claim that four U.S. embassies faced an imminent threat of attack in the lead up to the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani took another hit after CNN reported Monday that State Departments weren't made aware of any threats.

While the department reportedly sent a global warning to U.S. embassies before the strike occurred, anonymous State Department officials told CNN there were no warnings about specific dangers to any U.S. embassies. In cases where a threat is imminent, the officials said protocol would normally call for the department to issue explicit warnings to overseas diplomats, limit their movements, and even consider staff evacuations, none of which happened before Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this month in Iraq. One official was reportedly "blindsided" by the administration justifying the strike with word of the embassy threats.

Trump doubled down on the explanation earlier Monday, accusing the media and Democrats of trying undermine the administration. He said the threat was indeed imminent and his administration was in agreement on the matter, but added it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Read more at CNN. Tim O'Donnell

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