This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Tehran has warned Washington against making a “strategic mistake” after U.S. President Donald Trump said that any attack by Iran would be met with a far greater response, in reaction to a news report said that Iran planned to assassinate a U.S. diplomat to avenge the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in January.
Any “new strategic mistake” by the U.S. leadership would be met with a “decisive response from Iran,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference on September 15, hours after Trump tweeted: “Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”
The two countries appeared to be on the brink of war after Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad on January 3.
Trump’s tweet came after Politico reported on an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Lana Marks, a friend of the president who was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to South Africa in October.
“According to press reports, Iran may be planning an assassination, or other attack, against the United States in retaliation for the killing of terrorist leader Soleimani, which was carried out for his planning a future attack, murdering U.S. Troops, and the death & suffering caused over so many years,” the president wrote on Twitter.
Rabiei said Trump should “refrain from fresh adventurism” ahead of a November election in which the U.S. president is seeking a new term.
Earlier, the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied the report of an assassination plot as “baseless” and part of efforts to “create an anti-Iranian atmosphere.”
U.S. intelligence reports say the Iranian government is weighing an assassination attempt against Marks, according to Politico in a story published on September 13. The story quotes an unidentified U.S. government official familiar with the issue and another official who has seen the intelligence.
U.S. officials have been aware of a general threat against Marks since the spring, according to the official, but the intelligence about the threat has become more specific in recent weeks. The Iranian Embassy in Pretoria was said to be involved in the plot.
Marks, 66, has been made aware of the threat, the U.S. government official said. It is unclear why Iran would target her. She is one of several options U.S. officials believe Iran’s regime is considering for retaliation against Soleimani’s assassination, Politico reported.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, an Iranian ballistic-missile strike on January 8 targeted bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces, causing dozens of traumatic brain injuries among American troops. Hours later, Iran’s armed forces shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 people on board, in what Iranian officials said was an accident.
As the head of the Quds Force, Soleimani was a key figure in supplying weapons and explosive devices to Iraqi insurgents that killed or wounded U.S. soldiers in Iraq following the ouster of Saddam Hussein. He was also the main figure running Iran’s policy in Syria and support for the Lebanese militant group Hizballah.