Iran vows to retaliate to any US attack after Biden's warning

Tehran's message comes after an Iraqi militia declared a halt to operations against American forces

A mural of soldiers in Tehran. Iran has said it will respond ‘decisively’ if its people or territory are attacked. EPA
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Iran has vowed to respond “decisively” to any attack on its interests after US President Joe Biden said he had decided on how to retaliate against a weekend strike in Jordan that killed three American soldiers.

The warning from Iran's UN envoy Amir Saeid Iravani follows an announcement by Tehran-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah that it is suspending attacks against US troops.

Meanwhile, Houthi rebels in Yemen have continued launching strikes against commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea.

Overnight on Tuesday, American guided-missile destroyer the USS Gravely said it shot down a cruise missile fired towards the Red Sea.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday.

The Iran-backed group, which like Kataib Hezbollah says it is acting in support of Palestinians in the Israel-Gaza war, has an arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles that the US and UN say are supplied by Iran.

Mr Iravani's statement came hours after US President Joe Biden said he made a decision on how to retaliate against a weekend strike in Jordan, for which the US accused Iran-backed groups.

Three US soldiers were killed and 40 wounded in the drone strike on a small military base.

Iran “would decisively respond to any attack on the county, its interests and nationals under any pretexts”, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna) reported Mr Iravani as saying.

The Iranian envoy also denied any exchange of messages between his country and US in the past two days, Irna added.

“Such messages have not been exchanged,” he said.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps chief Hossein Salami also responded to the warning from Washington.

“We hear threats coming from American officials, we tell them that they have already tested us and we now know one another,” Mr Salami said, according to the IRGC-aligned Tasnim News Agency.

“No threat will be left unanswered."

In January 2020, the IRGC attacked Ain Al Asad airbase in Iraq, where American troops are stationed, after Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, commander of its elite Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

Mr Biden has blamed Iran for supplying weapons used in Sunday's attack in Jordan.

“I do hold [Tehran] responsible, in the sense that they're supplying the weapons to the people who did it,” the US President said.

“I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.”

Kataib Hezbollah suspends operations

Shortly after Mr Biden's statement, Iraqi Shiite militia Kataib Hezbollah, which has been the main focus of blame for the attack, announced the suspension of all military operations against US troops.

"We announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government," the group's secretary general Ahmad Mohsen Faraj Al Hamidawi, known as Abu Hussein Al Hamidawi, said in a statement.

Analysts and Iraqi Parliament sources said the announcement was intended to prevent a large-scale US escalation against the group.

"Abu Hussein's dramatic turnaround is intended to forestall an imminent US military operation that the Iranian and Iraqi governments wish to avoid," said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Kataib Hezbollah is one of the three main militias that make up Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-linked groups that have carried out dozens of attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria.

The other two groups, Harakat Hezbollah Al Nujaba and Kataib Sayyid Al Shuhada, have not announced they are suspending operations.

Two Shiite politicians close to militias told The National the agreement for Kataib Hezbollah to suspend operations had been reached after extensive discussions between Iran, Iraqi Prime Minster Mohammed Shia Al Sudani and the Co-ordination Framework, the biggest parliamentary bloc in Iraq that includes Iran-backed political factions and militias.

"There was a consensus mainly among the Co-ordination Framework that the resistance factions went too far not only with the killing of three US soldiers but also with opening a new front in Jordan," one of the politicians said.

The other said: "After intense discussions, Tehran and other Shiite factions pressured Kataib Hezbollah to stand down ... to avoid escalation."

Mr Al Sudani is under intense domestic political pressure to force US-led coalition forces to leave Iraq, a decade after their arrival to help fight ISIS.

Foreign forces had previously been in the country during the 2003 to 2011 Iraq War.

Mr Al Sudani's critics say US strikes in Iraq are a breach of Iraqi sovereignty, so more US action could undermine him.

Kataib Hezbollah and other militant groups in Iraq and Syria have carried out numerous attacks on US personnel in the Middle East since October 7, in response to Washington's support for Israel's war in Gaza.

The US has imposed sanctions on Kataib Hezbollah for supporting Iran's IRGC's Quds Force, which arms and trains groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Pentagon spokesman Maj Gen Patrick Ryder said there had been at least three other Iran-linked strikes in Iraq and Syria since Sunday's attack in Jordan, and more than 160 in recent months.

Updated: January 31, 2024, 6:04 PM