Suspected ‘kamikaze drone’ attack on an Israeli-linked tanker that killed 2 was retaliation for Israel’s bombing of Syria, says Iranian TV

Warships in the Arabian Sea.
Tensions are rising in the Arabian Sea.

  • A British and Romanian were killed in an attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker in the Gulf.
  • Israel has accused Iran of carrying out the attack and said a strong response is needed.
  • An Iran TV station, linked to the government, said the attack was retaliation for Israeli raids in Syria.
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A British and Romanian citizen was killed in an attack on the Israeli-owned Mercer Street crew oil tanker off Oman’s coast on Thursday.

Israel has accused Iran of carrying out the attack, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid calling it “Iranian terrorism” that warranted a strong response.

The petroleum product tanker is operated by London-based company Zodiac Maritime, owned by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer.

Zodiac Maritime described the attack as “suspected piracy.”

On Friday, Iranian government Arabic-language television network Al Alam TV said the attack was in “response to a recent Israeli attack on Al-Dabaa airport in the Al-Qusayr region in Syria,” which it attributed to “well-informed sources” in the region.

Iran has not officially responded to the accusations that it is responsible for the attack.

‘Israel will find it hard to turn a blind eye’

According to Israeli news website Ynet, there were two attacks on the ship within a few hours, and it was the second one that hit the bridge and killed the two victims.

A private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global referred to a drone sighting involving the vessel before the attack, reported Al-Jazeera.

“The incident in the Gulf of Oman was apparently carried out by a kind of kamikaze drone,” wrote Seth J. Frantzman, Senior Middle East Correspondent and Middle East affairs analyst at the Jerusalem Post.

“Pro-Iran forces have used drones to attack US forces in Iraq, and Tehran has trafficked drones and drone technology to the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iraqi militias,” added Frantzman.

A US official, speaking anonymously, told the Associated Press said the attack appeared to have been carried out by a “one-way drone.”

The Mercer Street is a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned ship, and the incident occurred about 152 nautical miles (280 km) northeast of the Omani port of Duqm, outside Omani territorial waters, according to the Oman Maritime Security Center.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction, and instability that harms us all. The world must not be silent in the face of Iranian terrorism that also harms freedom of shipping,” Lapid said in a statement.

He has reportedly told UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab that a tough response is needed.

Tensions in the Gulf have been rising in recent months, with Iran and Israel repeatedly accusing each other of attacking ships. The latest incident is seen as a significant escalation.

“Israel will find it hard to turn a blind eye,” an unnamed Israeli official reportedly said.

The Mercer Street has now been escorted to a safe location by the US Navy.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said that Washington was “deeply concerned by the reports and closely monitoring the situation.”

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Biden officials reportedly warn Iran’s incoming president that time is running out to save nuclear deal

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign meeting at the Mosalla mosque in Tehran, Iran, May 16, 2017.  TIMA via REUTERS
Iranian Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign meeting at the Mosalla mosque in Tehran

  • The US is warning Iran that the 2015 nuclear deal could soon be beyond saving, Axios reports.
  • Talks aimed at reviving the deal have been stalled as Iran prepares to inaugurate a new president.
  • The incoming president, Ebrahim Raisi, is a hardliner and close ally of Iran’s supreme leader.
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The US is warning Iran’s incoming president, Ebrahim Raisi, that the 2015 nuclear deal could soon be beyond saving, according to an Axios report.

The US and Iran have engaged in six rounds of indirect talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the nuclear pact, a top foreign policy goal of President Joe Biden. But the talks are stalled after Iran suspended the negotiations earlier this month, stating they would not resume until Raisi is inaugurated in early August.

Seyyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, in a tweet earlier this month said, “We’re in a transition period as a democratic transfer of power is underway in our capital. [Vienna talks] must thus obviously await our new administration. This is what every democracy demands.”

Meanwhile, a senior US official told Axios that in a few months Iran’s nuclear program could advance to a point at which returning to the agreement would effectively be pointless. The official also expressed concern that the new government under Raisi, a hardliner and protégé of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will vie to get more concessions.

“We also hope they don’t think they will get more than the previous government because they are tougher,” the official said. “It’s not about being tougher, it’s about fully implementing the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. The US position will not change, and the Iranians will not be able to reinvent the nuclear deal or be in a situation where they do less and we do more.”

Iran’s authoritarian government rigged the country’s June election in Raisi’s favor. He won the election with roughly 62% of the vote amid historically low turnout. Only seven people were permitted to run for the presidency, and millions of voters stayed home in protest. Iran’s Guardian Council prohibited influential moderates and reformists from running.

On Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader lashed out at the Biden administration over the talks, calling the US “stubborn.”

“Westerners do not help us, they hit wherever they can,” Khamenei said, per the Associated Press. “They don’t help, they are enemies.”

Responding to Khamenei’s remarks, a State Department spokesperson told Insider that the Biden administration has been “sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance” to the nuclear deal and “to address the full range of concerns that we have with Iran.”

“We are doing so because we know that a mutual return to compliance is in America’s national interest,” the spokesperson added. “We have made clear that we are prepared to return to Vienna to resume negotiations. The same could not be said of Iran. No amount of deflection can obscure that. We urge Iran to return to the negotiations soon so that we can seek to conclude this deal. As the Secretary has made clear, that opportunity will not last forever.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late June warned that the situation was approaching a point where it would be “very hard” to return to the standards set by the 2015 deal.

Khamenei endorsed the Vienna talks but continued to criticize the US amid the discussions. Raisi has also backed restoring the pact, but that’s now appearing increasingly unlikely.

The Iran nuclear deal was orchestrated by the Obama administration, with France, the UK, China, Russia, and Germany also involved in the negotiations. The agreement aimed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018, in a move that would push tensions between Washington and Tehran to historic heights. Iran gradually took steps away from the deal after the US pulled out, essentially abandoning it altogether after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed the top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani.

Biden vied to restore the deal once in the White House, but the US and Iran have butted heads over the path to bringing the pact back to life. Iran has insisted that the US lift sanctions before it returns to compliance, while the US has maintained that no sanctions relief will occur until Tehran demonstrations it’s adhering to the deal.

The Vienna talks began in April, and there were early signs of progress. Iran’s move to stall the negotiations, however, has raised alarm bells among Western powers eager to revive the deal.

French foreign ministry spokesperson Agnes von der Muhll in comments to reporters earlier this week warned Iran that it was walking a path that could lead to the collapse of the talks and any hope of restoring the deal – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “If it continues on this path, not only will it continue to delay when an agreement to lift sanctions can be reached, but it risks jeopardising the very possibility of concluding the Vienna talks and restoring the JCPOA,” she said.

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Gen. Mark Milley reportedly warned Trump not to strike Iran: ‘You’re gonna have a f—ing war’

Trump, Gen. Milley
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Army General Mark Milley looks on after a briefing from senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House on October 7, 2019 in Washington, DC.

  • Gen. Mark Milley reportedly warned Trump not to take military action against Iran.
  • Milley told Trump “you’re gonna have a f—ing war” with Iran if the US striked, per a new book.
  • The book by the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser and NYT’s Peter Baker comes out next year.
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Top US Gen. Mark Milley feared that former President Donald Trump would take military action against Iran at the end of his presidency and repeatedly warned him not to, according to reporting for an upcoming book on the Trump presidency published in the New Yorker on Friday.

“If you do this, you’re gonna have a f—ing war,” Milley reportedly told the former president and his foreign policy advisors, who had pushed for a missile strike on the Middle Eastern country after Trump lost the 2020 election.

The topic of Iran was frequently raised in White House meetings in the months following the race, with Trump “seemingly willing to do anything to stay in power,” according to a co-author of the book, The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser. Correspondingly, the New York Times in late November reported that Trump consulted top advisors – including Milley – about potential options for striking Iran’s primary nuclear site and was ultimately talked out of it.

At one meeting in which Trump was not present, his advisors had again brought up taking action against Iran. Milley questioned “why they were so intent on attacking the country,” Glasser reports.

“Because they are evil,” then-Vice President Mike Pence reportedly answered.

Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, eventually helped end the prospects of a potential conflict with Iran, per the book.

On January 3, Glasser reports Trump had held an Oval Office meeting to receive an update on Iran’s latest nuclear activities. Milley, along with then-national security advisor Robert O’Brien and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, each informed Trump that any military action against Iran would be impossible at this point.

Trump appeared to heed the warnings, and the focus on Iran faded out, per the book.

The book is slated to come out next year and is co-authored by Glasser and her husband, The New York Times’ Peter Baker. The pair conducted nearly 200 interviews for their reporting on Trump’s time in the White House, according to Glasser.

The US and Iran have been adversaries for decades, dating back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis at the US Embassy that began the same year, but tensions reached historic heights under Trump.

Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was at heart of animosity. His administration employed a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, vying to cripple the Iranian economy via harsh sanctions in the hopes of eventually negotiating a more stringent version of the nuclear pact.

The Trump administration’s strategy did not work. Iran instead took gradual steps away from the 2015 deal, which was designed to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Meanwhile, a series of skirmishes in the Persian Gulf involving attacks on oil tankers, which the US blamed on Iran, raised concerns of a new conflict in the region.

In January 2020, Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani. The strike pushed the US and Iran to the brink of war, prompting a retaliatory missile attack on US troops in Iraq that left dozens injured. Both sides ultimately stepped away from a broader conflict, but the heightened tensions between the US and Iran have continued into the Biden era.

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GOP lawmakers say Biden hasn’t responded strongly enough to Iranian-backed attacks on US personnel at least 6 times last week in Iraq and Syria

Biden
President Joe Biden waves as he walks on the Ellipse after stepping off Marine One on May 17, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Iran-backed militias waged multiple attacks on US personnel in Iraq and Syria, Reuters reported.
  • In one of the at least six attacks, two US service members were injured.
  • “Iran-backed militias’ continued assault on US personnel in Iraq cannot be tolerated,” GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe told Politico.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republican lawmakers said President Joe Biden is not responding strongly enough after numerous attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed militias, Politico reported.

In the past week, at least six rocket and drone attacks targeted US troops and diplomats. On Wednesday, for example, two US service members were injured when at least 14 rockets hit an Iraqi airbase hosting US troops, Reuters reported.

Politico reported the exchanges this week are the latest in a long string of back and forth attacks between the US and Iranian-backed militias.

Biden has been working to be less involved in the region to focus on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and Republicans have been critical of the minimal approach.

“Iran-backed militias’ continued assault on US personnel in Iraq cannot be tolerated,” Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement to Politico. “President Biden must put forward a real strategy for deterring and ending these attacks, rather than continuing his bare-minimum, tit-for-tat approach that is failing to deter Iran or its militias and puts American lives at increased risk.”

Former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, under former President Donald Trump, Mick Mulroy told Politico that “Iran needs to know they can’t hide behind their proxy forces.”

Read more: Photos show shirtless Democratic congressmen and their wives riding camels on a Qatar trip paid for by a special interest group

Biden did order airstrikes against Iran-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border late last month, as well as in February following attacks on US personnel, but faced backlash from progressives.

“I will be briefed on the imminent harm to our troops who the President has a duty to protect and why the Administration believed this was necessary for self-defense,” Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, told Insider’s John Haltiwanger last month. “What this shows, however, is the need for a broader strategy to bring our troops home so they are not at risk and to de-escalate the tensions with Iran.”

During a press conference, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby addressed the attacks on Thursday and said the US is evaluating a response.

“Obviously deeply concerned. We take the security and safety of our people overseas extremely seriously. And you’ve seen us retaliate appropriately when that safety and security has been threatened,” Kirby said.

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Donald Rumsfeld’s legacy is defined by the disastrous Iraq War and America’s disgraceful use of torture

Donald Rumsfeld
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld listens to questions during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on what military leaders knew about the combat death in Afghanistan of U.S. Army Ranger and former football star Pat Tillman, in Washington, August 1, 2007.

  • Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s powerful defense secretary, died at 88 on Wednesday.
  • His legacy will always be tied to the Iraq War and torture.
  • Rumsfeld helped push the false notion Iraq had WMDs – the basis for the 2003 invasion.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the days leading up to Donald Rumsfeld’s death, the US targeted Iranian proxy fighters along the Iraq-Syria border with airstrikes in what the Pentagon said was a “defensive” response to drone attacks on American forces in the region.

The fighting between the US and Iran-backed militias is intrinsically tied to Rumsfeld’s legacy. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq and removal of its dictator created a power vacuum that Iran took advantage of, using it as an opportunity to prop up Shiite Islamist militias and political parties that vie for power in Iraq and counter America’s agenda and troops.

As former President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense from 2001 to 2006, Rumsfeld was one of the main architects of the 2003 Iraq War and a proponent of the torture methods that damaged America’s global standing. He played a central role in selling the false notion that Saddam Hussein was actively developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that posed a direct threat to the US. Later, Rumsfeld referred to his baseless assertions about WMDs in Iraq as “misstatements.”

In one of his most infamous statements about the war, Rumsfeld once dismissed looting that occurred shortly after the invasion by simply stating: “Stuff happens.”

The war was a costly disaster for Rumsfeld’s political career and in far more reverberating ways, with the conflict claiming many Iraqi and American lives while undermining US credibility worldwide.

The “global war on terror,” which the Iraq invasion was fundamentally linked to and began while Rumsfeld was Pentagon chief, has also been an exorbitantly expensive debacle. It’s claimed over 800,000 lives, displaced at least 37 million, and the US government places the price-tag around $6.4 trillion, according to the Brown University’s Costs of War project, which estimated that as many as 308,000 people directly died as a result of the war’s violence.

The 2003 Iraq invasion also helped catalyze the rise of the Islamic State or ISIS, a terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for devastating attacks across the globe. ISIS was initially founded as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” in 2004. By 2014, ISIS declared a caliphate as it controlled a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria. ISIS lost its territorial holdings and has seen top leaders killed, but is still viewed as a threat by the US and its Western allies.

“ISIS, al-Qa’ida, and Iran and its militant allies continue to plot terrorist attacks against US persons and interests, including to varying degrees in the United States. Despite leadership losses, terrorist groups have shown great resiliency and are taking advantage of ungoverned areas to rebuild,” the US intelligence community said in its annual threat assessment released in April. The US maintains a presence of roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq as part of the international coalition continuing to fight the remnants of ISIS.

Rumsfeld in his 2011 memoir said he had no regrets about the 2003 Iraq War because it helped take out Saddam Hussein, which he said helped stabilize the Middle East. History tells a different story.

“While the road not traveled always looks smoother, the cold reality of a Hussein regime in Baghdad most likely would mean a Middle East far more perilous than it is today,” Rumsfeld said. “Our failure to confront Iraq would have sent a message to other nations that neither America nor any other nation was willing to stand in the way of their support for terrorism and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.”

Years before the 2003 invasion, Rumsfeld served as the Reagan administration’s special Middle East envoy. At the time, he met with Hussein and offered the Iraqi leader assistance – even though the US knew that Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran amid a devastating conflict.

Rumsfeld was also a documented proponent of enhanced interrogation techniques – or torture.

In one memo that Rumsfeld signed as defense secretary approving the use of torture on detainees, he wrote a handwritten note asking why they would only be required to stand for four hours.

A December 2008 Senate report also concluded that Abu Ghraib torture scandal was a product of the interrogation techniques approved by Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials.

Human rights groups and civil liberties groups like the ACLU filed unsuccessful lawsuits against Rumsfeld over his involvement in America’s use of torture. Such organizations pointed to this legacy as they reacted to the news of Rumsfeld’s death.

“Rumsfeld may be dead, but other senior Bush administration officials are alive and well and available for criminal investigation into torture,” Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington irector at Human Rights Watch, said in a tweet.

Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, tweeted that the “top of every obituary” should state that he “gave the orders that resulted in the abuse and torture of hundreds of prisoners in US custody in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.”

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Biden is fighting a ‘low-intensity war’ against Iran-backed militants, and it’s causing tensions with fellow Democrats

joe biden
President Joe Biden makes brief remarks while hosting Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, in the Oval Office at the White House June 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Top Democrats are criticizing Biden’s recent airstrikes against Iranian proxies.
  • Sen. Chris Murphy told NYT that Biden is waging a “low-intensity war.”
  • Democrats like Murphy have effectively accused Biden of bypassing Congress.
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President Joe Biden’s Iran strategy is faltering, and he’s facing growing accusations from fellow Democrats of waging what effectively amounts to an undeclared war.

Biden on Sunday ordered airstrikes against Iran-backed militias along the Iraq-Syria border, a move the Pentagon said was “defensive” and prompted by drone attacks on US forces in the region.

The Biden administration said that Sunday’s strikes were designed to send “a clear and unambiguous deterrent message” against future attacks on American forces in the region, but within hours US troops in Syria were targeted with rocket attacks. No casualties have been reported. Iran-backed militias were suspected of firing the rockets, and US forces responded with artillery fire, a US military spokesperson said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the airstrikes were meant to “limit the risk of escalation,” but they’ve seemingly achieved the opposite.

Sunday’s airstrikes and the subsequent rocket attacks were also not isolated incidents, but linked to a broader, escalating series of retaliatory actions by the US and Iran-backed militias. Biden in February also ordered airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in response to attacks on US forces.

“This attack, like the one preceding it, will not deter these militias from targeting US and coalition forces again,” Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told US News and World Report. Democrats in Congress have reached similar conclusions.

Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee, in a tweet said, “The first time the Biden Administration launched airstrikes, they assured Congress there was a plan to de-escalate. Protecting American troops is a priority, but clearly continuing airstrikes is not deterring Iran-backed militias from attacking our troops in Iraq.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, an increasingly prominent voice on foreign policy in Washington, in comments to the New York Times said the violence between the US and Iranian proxies represents a “low-intensity war.”

“Repeated retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxy forces are starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities,” Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Times. Biden has repeatedly cited Article II of the Constitution as the legal justification for the strikes he’s ordered against Iran’s proxies, but Murphy said the cycle of violence is getting to a point where Congress needs to step in and assert its constitutionally-enshrined war powers.

“You can’t continue to declare Article II authorities over and over again … without at some point triggering Congress’s authorities,” Murphy said.

Other top Democrats have raised concerns about Congress being bypassed for military actions like this and called for more information on the Biden administration’s rationale for the strikes.

“Congress has the power to authorize the use of military force and declarations of war, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to hear from the administration more on these strikes,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

Biden in the Oval Office on Monday rebuffed the notion that he’s stretching the limits of his presidential war powers. “I have that authority under Article II – and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that have acknowledged that is the case,” Biden told reporters.

The president is being pushed into walking a careful line when it comes to Iran as well as presidential war powers.

The Biden administration has endorsed recent congressional efforts to repeal post-9/11 laws that gave presidents broad powers to conduct military operations worldwide. But it also doesn’t want to allow attacks on US forces to go unanswered, or to look soft on Iran. This is particularly true while the US is engaged in ongoing, indirect diplomat discussions with Iran in Vienna that are aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

That said, the talks are up in the air, and with so many disagreements remaining Blinken recently told the Times that the US is “getting closer” to walking away from the negotiation table.

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s incoming president, is not expected to derail the effort to revive the 2015 pact. But Raisi is also a hardliner and close ally of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is already under US sanctions over his human rights record. Moreover, the Iranian president-elect has made it clear he doesn’t support engaging in further diplomacy with the US. Raisi also recently said he would not relinquish support for regional militias, one of many signs that he could cause significant headaches for Biden.

If violence between US forces and Iran’s proxies continues, Biden is poised to face more criticism from Democrats over presidential war powers – as well as increased calls to pull more of the roughly 2,500 American troops from Iraq.

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, on Monday told Insider that Sunday’s airstrikes showed “the need for a broader strategy to bring our troops home so they are not at risk and to de-escalate the tensions with Iran.”

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US carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups

Pentagon
Aerial view of the Pentagon

  • The US carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria early Monday morning.
  • The Pentagon said the targets were used by Iran-backed militia groups that were conducting attacks on US facilities in Iraq.
  • The US aimed “to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Pentagon carried out airstrikes Monday morning in Iraq and Syria on facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Sunday.

“At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” he said in a statement.

Kirby said the targets were selected because they were used by Iran-backed militia groups that are conducting drone attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq. The groups included Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel. Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Kirby said.

Read more: Meet 7 BidenWorld longtime consiglieres and a couple relative newcomers who have access to exclusive White House meetings

“We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to defeat ISIS. The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” he continued.

The airstrikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at three locations, two in Syria and one in Iraq, all near the border between the two countries.

It was not the first time the US launched airstrikes in the region under President Joe Biden. In February, Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria against assets of Iran-backed militia groups after militants fired rockets at an Iraqi airbase used by the US military. The militia groups were the same ones targeted on Monday.

Several militant groups in Iraq and Syria are supported by the Iranian government, which has struggled with years of economic sanctions. Biden has sought to engage Iran in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal that the US withdrew from under former President Donald Trump.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency in a vote with low turnout, calls for a boycott

PUBLICLY DISTRIBUTED HANDOUT PHOTO PROVIDED BY IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE.
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, left, speaks with the media after his meeting with President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, right, Saturday, June 19, 2021.

  • Initial results showed hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi won 17.8 million votes in the contest.
  • Raisi dominated only after a panel under watch by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei disqualified strong competition.
  • Some, including former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for a boycott of the vote.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won the country’s presidential election in a landslide victory Saturday, propelling the supreme leader’s protege into Tehran’s highest civilian position in a vote that appeared to see the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.

Initial results showed Ebrahim Raisi won 17.8 million votes in the contest, dwarfing those of the race’s sole moderate candidate. However, Raisi dominated the election only after a panel under the watch of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei disqualified his strongest competition.

His candidacy, and the sense the election served more as a coronation for him, sparked widespread apathy among eligible voters in the Islamic Republic, which has held up turnout as a sign of support for the theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Some, including former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for a boycott.

In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

Raisi’s blowout win came amid boycott calls and widespread voter apathy

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country – as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2 a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary – one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the US and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades – the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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2 Iranian Navy ships are heading to the Americas, posing a potential provocation to the US

Makran iran ship americas
Iranian naval ship, the Makran, is seen near Larak Island, Iran, in this satellite image taken on May 10, 2021.

  • The US is tracking two Iranian Navy ships believed to be headed for Venezuela.
  • Politico reported the ships are nearing the Atlantic Ocean and carrying “missile-attack craft.”
  • Biden is trying to lure Iran back to the 2015 nuclear deal, and appears reticent to anger Tehran.
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Two mysterious Iranian Navy ships heading to the Americas are soon expected to enter the Atlantic Ocean, posing a new problem for the Biden administration, Politico reported.

On Saturday, the outlet reported that the US was surveilling IRNS Makran, an oil tanker-turned-staging base, and a Iranian Navy frigate, believed to be headed for Venezuela.

Iran has long threatened to deploy its Navy into the Atlantic Ocean, but has never been true to its word.

Iran’s intentions are not clear, but a National Security Council spokesperson told Politico that Venezuela had purchased weapons from Iran in the past year.

‘This has all the markings of an arms sale’

Satellite images published Monday by USNI News show that IRNS Makran is carrying “seven high-speed missile-attack craft.”

On Wednesday, US Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that the incursion was an attempt to “project a message of strength to the Biden administration.”

“This has all the markings of delivery on an arms sale (such as fast attack boats) to #Venezuela,” he said.

A US defense official told Politico that the Pentagon had no plans to deploy US Navy ships to meet the Iranian boats.

‘I warn that nobody should make a miscalculation’

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing on Tuesday: “I’m not going to speculate about what the Iranian Navy might or might not do,” Politico reported.

Insider contacted the Department of Defense for comment.

On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that nations should not jump to conclusions about Iran’s intentions. “Iran has constant presence in international waters is entitled to this right on the basis of international law,” he said, per Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

“I warn that nobody should make a miscalculation. Those who live in glass houses must be cautious.”

The approaching Iranian vessels pose a new test for the Biden administration

The US is right now trying to lure Iran back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, and potentially end sanctions introduced under the Trump administration after the US left the agreement in May 2018.

Confronting the Iranian vessels in international waters could anger Tehran and jeopardize the US efforts.

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Iran’s largest navy ship sank after catching fire in the Gulf of Oman, state media says

Iran Kharg ship
A 2011 photo of Iran’s Kharg warship.

  • Iran’s largest navy ship sank after it caught fire in the Gulf of Oman, Iranian media reported.
  • Iranian state TV said a fire started early Wednesday during a training mission in the port of Jask.
  • No reason for the fire was given, but the crew was reported safe.
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Iran’s largest navy ship, the Kharg, sank after catching fire but its crew was safety rescued, Iranian media reported.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that “all efforts to save the vessel were unsuccessful and it sank,” according to Reuters.

Iranian state TV said a fire started around 2:25 a.m. on Wednesday as it was on a training mission in Iran’s port of Jask, Reuters reported.

The reports gave no reason for why the fire started.

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